Air Force Veteran Josh Seefried grew up knowing he wanted to serve in the Air Force. It started when his parents sent him to Space Camp in fifth grade, offering him the experience of a lifetime. The next summer, he participated in Aviation Challenge, getting the chance to fly and engage in aerial combat through a simulator. In seventh grade, he petitioned his congressman to get him into a shadow cadet program at the U.S. Air Force Academy, a program reserved only for high school students.
After high school, the Air Force Academy officially admitted Seefried as a student and he could not be happier. Yet, his enchantment with the Air Force – and the military more generally – soon turned into trauma. Seefried was gay and was blackmailed and exposed while serving under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
In this episode of Borne the Battle, Seefried shares his life’s story, from being blackmailed and outed as gay to becoming one of the nation’s foremost advocates for LGBT active-duty service members. He discusses:
- When one of his academy teachers found out he was gay and blackmailed him for favors
- Being outed as gay
- How his superiors treated him when investigating his blackmail case
- Using social media to stake out a space for LGBT members of the military to communicate
- How he helped fellow service members come out after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed
An early part of Seefried’s strategy to change the military’s culture for its LGBT members included the novel use of social media. At a time when social media platforms like Facebook were still new, Seefried formed online groups that connected thousands of LGBT service members.
Seefried regularly appeared on major broadcasting networks under the pseudonym “JD Smith,” advocating for the LGBT military community. But after President Obama signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, Seefried publicly came out.
After years of LGBT advocacy, Seefried left a lasting mark on the military. He entered the Air Force with high hopes and left it a place that he could feel proud of having been a part of.
Borne the Battle Veteran of the Week:
- Army Veteran Melissa Margain
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL TRANSCRIPT OF THE EPISODE
- Seefried published Our Time: Breaking the Silence of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2012, a book assembling the voices of men and women who served under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
- VA recognizes the existing diversity inherent to its population, including the LGBT community. That is why it offers service members targeted benefits designed for those connected with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
- VA Patient Care Services provides a range of healthcare services that the LGBT Veteran community can take advantage of.
- VA schedules stakeholder listening sessions to guide future of VA health care
Calvin Wong is an intern with VA’s Digital Media Engagement team. He studies History as an undergraduate at the University of California, Davis.