By Susan Finch and Yvonne Labbe
When 20 year-old Jeff Murphy, a gay man from Sonoma, CA., signed up to join the U.S. Coast Guard in the summer of 1986, he found himself fielding a question then posed to everyone trying to enlist: are you a homosexual?
Murphy, who was eager to be part of a military branch famed for its search and rescue derring-do, faced a dilemma: he knew the service would reject him outright if he answered yes, but if he denied being gay and the Coast Guard later learned otherwise, he could be booted out for lying.
Murphy, who ended his 20 year Coast Guard career in 2006 as a chief petty officer, recently described how he dealt with that difficult interview question so long ago.
“I can’t BELIEVE you asked me that!” he told the interviewer. “I’m sorry. I had to ask you,” the man responded.
Murphy said he didn’t answer the man’s question directly, “but I know what he wrote. In a sense I let him think what he wanted . . . I knew the rule and I intentionally chose to ignore that and join, knowing that they excluded people that were gay.”