Gay veteran Dave Gainer hopes 2010 will be the year the military ends its ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers
FOREST HILL — Ask Dave Gainer how he got involved in the battle to overturn "Don’t ask, don’t tell" eight years ago, and his eyes still well up with tears.
Gainer, a now-61-year-old retired Air Force chief master sergeant, said it all started during a visit from his late friend and fellow gay veteran, Wes Giles.
After 23 years of concealing his sexual orientation while serving his country, Gainer had long since left the military and come out to his family, including his wife and daughter. But Gainer’s Air Force uniform was stashed away and collecting dust — until he was confronted by Giles.
"He said, ‘How can you be out and your uniform still be in the closet?’" Gainer recalled.
"In my mind, there was some kind of mark of dishonor — that I’d lied for 23 years. I wasn’t supposed to be gay in a uniform."
Giles, a longtime San Antonio activist and a founding member of the gay group American Veterans for Equal Rights, told Gainer to take out the uniform, clean it up and make sure it still fit. Giles told Gainer, who then lived in Austin, he’d be marching with the gay Color Guard in the upcoming Austin Pride parade.
"He said, ‘You’re going to host the Color Guard from all over Texas. I’ve already given them your address,’" Gainer said.
For the next several years, Gainer appeared with the gay Color Guard annually in the Austin, Houston and Dallas Pride parades. He became vice president of AVER and eventually got involved with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, the Washington-based organization focused on fighting DADT in Congress and the courts.
Two years ago, Gainer joined SLDN’s 20-member board of directors. He’s one of three board members from Texas and the only one from North Texas.
Gainer, who now lives in Forest Hill and does title work for oil and gas exploration companies, said he devotes about two hours a day to his SLDN duties. But he’s convinced those duties will end sometime in 2010, when he believes the 16-year-old ban on gays in the military will finally be repealed.
"I’ll implode if it doesn’t happen," he said. "I guess eight years is not a long time to fight a battle like this, but it’s eight years too many."
Decorated military career
Gainer grew up in Charleston, W. Va. in what he calls a "very, very fundamentalist family."
"This story is not unique," he said. "I’ve heard it from other guys like me. I really knew I was gay, but I couldn’t be that way, because I was supposed to be a minister. I was raised to be a minister.
"I figured, I’ll join the military, that’ll fix me. I’ll get married like all the GIs did, and that’ll fix me. But you know what? It didn’t fix me."
After his father died, Gainer’s family moved to Florida, where he graduated high school. He signed up for the Air Force in 1966 at the age of 18.
Following basic training, Gainer was assigned to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. From there he was sent to the Philipines, where he met the woman he would marry, and on to South Vietnam, where he worked in combat communications.
Asked about gays in the military in the late 1960s, Gainer said they had to lie not only on their enlistment forms, but also in interviews to obtain security clearance.
If gays were somehow outed, they would lose their security clearance, in part because it was the height of the Cold War, and being homosexual could make you a target for blackmail by the Russians, Gainer said.
"In the job that I had, no security clearance meant no job," he said. "Generally you would get a less than honorable discharge, and that was based on the fact that you lied."
After completing two tours of duty in Vietnam, Gainer became a combat crewmember at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) beneath Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado.
He later returned to San Antonio, where he helped set up the Air Force’s first worldwide personnel data system. Finally he was sent to Hawaii, where he served as maintenance superintendent at Hickman Air Force Base.
All told, Gainer received five Meritorious Service medals and the Bronze Star. He retired at the Air Force Military Personnel Center in San Antonio in 1990 as a chief master sergeant, a rank achieved by only the top 1 percent of enlisted men.
While in the Air Force Gainer his earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in financial management, and after retiring in 1990, he went to work as a high-level manager for a private communications firm.
But Gainer said he was let go from the company after introducing his bosses to his first partner.
Since then he’s worked for the state Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, and served as the civilian director of information management at Fort Sam Houston.
In 2000 Gainer met his husband, David Guy, in Austin, and they moved to Forest Hill in 2006.
Gainer and Guy, who call themselves Dave and David Guy-Gainer, were married in San Francisco in 2004 and have had a commitment ceremony in Texas. Gainer said they hope to marry again in Washington when they travel there for SLDN board meetings next spring.
"We’re going to keep getting married until we find one that sticks," Gainer said. "If Congress approves the City Council decision, I would really be proud to get married in D.C., and David has already said yes."
Life after DADT
Asked why he became such an advocate for the repeal of DADT, Gainer cites three reasons. First, he said, it’s about those who’ve been discharged from the military under the discriminatory policy.
"When you get to meet a whole bunch of these men and you see their tears and their crushed spirits, it just appalls someone at the level of a chief master sergeant," he said.
He added that those who’ve been discharged under DADT are often forced to present a military form to prospective employers that says in bold-faced, capital letters that they’re homosexual.
"That’s just plain wrong, and it doesn’t take meeting too many of these kids to see that, to feel that pain," he said.
Second, Gainer said, he does it on behalf of gay veterans like himself and Giles.
"We should be honoring these folks, not letting their service hang in the closet, and I feel strongly there’s no outlet for that now," he said.
Finally, despite core values like honesty and integrity, the military is forcing young men and women serving in places like Iraq to lie about who they are.
"That kid’s got to know that there’s hope," Gainer said.
Gainer said the House bill to repeal DADT now has 186 co-sponsors, and the lead sponsor is Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Penn., a straight veteran of the Iraq war who, according to Gainer, agrees that DADT is "bullshit."
The magic number to make the DADT repeal "bullet-proof" in the House is 218, he said. In addition to the 186 co-sponsors, there are another 15 hard yes votes.
"All the low-hanging fruit is gone," Gainer said. "Now we’re down to the tough ones."
Gainer said it took him three years to get Congressman Charles Gonzales, D-Texas, to sign on as a co-sponsor, and he’s now working to get Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas, on board.
Gainer said SLDN is also lining up sponsors in the Senate. While he’s written off Texas’ two Republican senators, he recently used family contacts in his hometown to set up an upcoming phone conference between SLDN and West Virginia’s two senators.
Gainer said he expects committee hearings on the DADT repeal in both the House and Senate as early as January. And he’s so confident it will be signed into law next year by President Barack Obama that he’s already laying the groundwork for the next chapter in his life.
Gainer is running for Democratic precinct chair in Forest Hill and says he plans to run as an openly gay candidate for City Council in May.
"I’m so tired of it," Gainer said of DADT. "I’d like to go work on other things,like maybe taking care of homeless people — real societal needs."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 25, 2009.