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Published: Monday, 1/3/2011

Findlay grad proud to help end 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

FINDLAY -- A year ago, Findlay High School graduate Katherine "Katie" Miller was a high-achieving cadet at the U.S. Military Academy harboring a big secret.

But she didn't want to hide her sexuality much longer.

By August, Ms. Miller had voluntarily outed herself as a lesbian and left the Army and West Point over the U.S. military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on homosexuality. Overnight she became a nationally recognized face in the movement to repeal the nation's ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Soon Ms. Miller was attending Yale University, granting international media interviews, and linking arms with Lady Gaga at the MTV Video Music Awards. Before year's end, she was shaking hands with President Obama after he signed the landmark law ending the policy against gays in the armed forces.

"It was really a roller coaster of events and emotions," Ms. Miller, 21, said in an interview from her hometown. "This [repeal] goes down in gay-rights history, but at the same time, this is something that the military is going to be very proud of when it looks back on itself."

Katherine 'Katie' Miller, in her white military dress uniform, was one of the four discharged service members escorting the musician Lady Gaga, an activist for repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' at the MTV awards show in Los Angeles in September. Katherine 'Katie' Miller, in her white military dress uniform, was one of the four discharged service members escorting the musician Lady Gaga, an activist for repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' at the MTV awards show in Los Angeles in September.
MATT SAYLES / ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

She added: "I feel proud to have been part of the movement and been able to make some impact."

With the repeal expected to be in effect by late February, Ms. Miller said she is busy filling out her application to transfer back to West Point.

If granted readmission, Ms. Miller would rejoin the academy this fall as a junior.

"My intention the entire time has been to help the military, not to provide disruption, but to provide an example of why this policy needs to go," said the 2008 Findlay graduate, who wasn't open about her sexuality in high school. "All too often people leave silently, and you don't see the toll that the policy has on the military."

Ms. Miller, who was ranked 17th in her West Point class of more than 1,000 cadets, gained nearly instant media attention after handing in her resignation letter.

She submitted it days before a commitment deadline at the academy for dropping out without having to pay back the monetary value of her education.

That week, she appeared live and in uniform on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, telling how the psychological burden of concealing her sexuality had grown too great. She transferred to Yale, an Ivy League school in New Haven, Conn., but in interviews left open the possibility of returning to West Point if "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" were repealed.

Ms. Miller soon discovered the perks to being a prominent figure in the repeal movement -- and one of its few visible young women.

The musician Lady Gaga, who positioned herself as an activist for the policy's repeal, invited Ms. Miller and three discharged service members to go backstage at her September concert in Washington.

"She was able to incorporate our stories into the messages that she would give throughout the concert," Ms. Miller recalled.

After the show, the pop star asked them to accompany her to the MTV awards show later that month.

It was an all-expenses-paid trip for Ms. Miller, who wore her West Point "India White" dress uniform as she helped escort Lady Gaga during the event.

"We all came in uniform, which was highly controversial, but it was something that we all weighed the pros and cons on," she said.

"Military members take huge offense when they see ex-military or nonmilitary wearing the uniform, especially to something that can be construed as political. So I received a lot of hate mail following that," she said.

Ms. Miller said that, like many others in the repeal movement, she was deeply disappointed after two earlier repeal attempts failed to gain enough support in the U.S. Senate.

She recalled that she was traveling home from college Dec. 18 and was halfway across Pennsylvania when a friend sent a text message saying that the latest Senate repeal effort was about to pass.

Both Ohio senators, George Voinovich, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, voted in favor of repeal.

Minutes later, she got a phone call from MSNBC, seeking her reaction to the bill's passage. Ms. Miller said she gave four to five interviews while a friend -- a lesbian currently serving in the military -- continued driving.

"We were both extremely excited," Ms. Miller recalled.

The following day, Ms. Miller was on a plane to New York for a second appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show on Dec. 20. Mr. Brown, a 1974 Yale graduate, called her after the show to praise her courage.

"Ohioans like Cadet Katherine Miller and many other advocates and service members worked in their communities and walked the halls of Congress to explain why 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' needed to be overturned," the senator told The Blade in a statement.

"Their experiences reminded us that the policy was inconsistent with our nation's values and kept the military from recruiting and retaining many professionals dedicated to serving in our nation's armed forces."

Ms. Miller canceled her flight back to Ohio after receiving an invitation to President Obama's signing ceremony of the repeal bill. She was soon on a bus to Washington for the Dec. 22 ceremony, and she remembers sitting near the front of the room before the president.

"Everything was by invitation only, so I felt pretty honored," she said. "It was really great to see every single person who's been working on the issue from every different angle in that room."

Ms. Miller said she enjoyed her first semester at Yale. She changed her major from sociology to political science and took classes, such as U.S. Lesbian and Gay History, that aren't offered at military academies. She was surprised by the diversity of the school's student body and the generous spirit of its administrators and financial aid office.

"Yale has been able to break all these Ivy League stereotypes that I may have gone in with," she said.

Still, Ms. Miller wants to pursue her earlier dream of graduating from West Point and serving in the Army.

She said she does not need a second nomination from U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana) for admission because her father, Bob Miller, is an Army veteran who has served as least eight years of active duty -- qualifying her for a service-connected nomination.

The congressman has voted against ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

ROTC has been absent from Yale's campus since 1969, when the faculty banned it during the Vietnam War. Students still can join ROTC but must to train off-campus.

Yale President Richard Levin announced after the Senate repeal vote that the university is "eager to open discussions" about bringing back the military.

Ms. Miller said she does not regret her decision last summer to withdraw from West Point, even though her re-admission isn't guaranteed.

"I think I was able to play a role in helping to get it pushed through," she said of the policy's repeal.

"I am not sure this would have happened if it was not for such a collective effort."

Contact JC Reindl at: jreindl@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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