Ten years ago, a group of cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy worked to establish the first gay-straight alliance at a U.S. military service academy.
Lt. Kelli Normoyle was one of two cadets who formally started the process to create CGA Spectrum, which was designated as the CGA Spectrum Diversity Council on Dec. 1, 2011, just a few months after the law known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed.
Normoyle remembers having a great experience during her first visit to the Coast Guard Academy while attending the Academy Introductory Mission (AIM). But after coming out as a senior in high school, she struggled with the decision to come to the Academy since it would have put her in the difficult position of hiding her sexual orientation.
Before the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” a gay cadet at one of the U.S. military academies would have had to deny or kept hidden a large part of their identity. They would have had no organized support networks to lean on. After the repeal of the law, and thanks to the support organizations that now exist at the federal service academies, gay cadets have a much different experience today.
“I didn’t know how to reconcile having to hide a part of myself, but also do something that I wanted to do so badly, which was come to the Coast Guard Academy,” Normoyle said in an interview shortly after Spectrum was formed.
“I finally decided that I would rather be part of changing it than just watching it happen,” she said, “and I am so happy and so grateful to all of the people who made it (the establishment of CGA Spectrum) happen. It’s really an incredible feeling to just be able to be yourself and it be a non-issue.”
Normoyle is still in touch with her Academy classmate Chip Hall, who she served as club president with and who she remembers as a driving force behind forming CGA Spectrum. Another cadet a year ahead of Hall and Normoyle, Melissa McCafferty, organized a Day of Silence event where participants are silent to draw attention to the silencing of LGBTQ students. McCafferty’s efforts let the two cadets, know that they were not alone at the Academy, and the experience served as the spark for their efforts.
CGA Spectrum, initially established as an affinity council for what was then identified as the LGBT community at the CGA, has since broadened its scope and is now known as a support network for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) cadets.
As she prepares for her next assignment as the commanding officer of the Coast Guard Cutter Sanibel out of Woods Hole, Mass., Normoyle is proud of the part she played in providing a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQIA+ cadets at her alma mater.
“It feels really good. People can talk about it now,” she said, “and it’s not just that they can talk about it, it’s encouraged and supported. And there are young people now who are coming through the Academy that are so aggressively proud, and I love it.”