to pretend you’re
career than I did. But when it was time for her
retirement, she didn’t have a ceremony of any
sort — this was before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
was repealed — because she couldn’t invite
the people she wanted to attend, and she
couldn’t say what she wanted to say.
What does that tell us about that policy?
It shows the arbitrariness of it, because I was
allowed to be out and continue to serve,
and she wasn’t. When I won my case, it was
bittersweet because I won it for myself, but
I wasn’t able to go to court and challenge the
constitutionality. So I was unable to help
others who were impacted by the policy.
What drove you during those years? The
chance to meet service members who had
been impacted, to hear their stories about
how much they mourned the loss of their
careers or how painful and devastating the
investigations were into their lives. Just
hearing their stories kept me going.
You once advised high school students
to “be your authentic self.” Why is that
important? It takes tremendous time,
energy, and emotional toil to pretend you’re
something you’re not. Being in the military
and keeping a secret, pretending I was
straight, it takes a daily toll. It’s death by
a thousand tiny cuts. Frankly, my experience
at Stanford GSB was the first time I could
start to be my authentic self. I joined the
LGBTQ business student group and ended
up co-leading it my second year. I credit the
business school for creating a safe space for
me to be out about my sexual orientation
and start my activism.
Was it still hard to be gay at Stanford in
1991? In 1991, the gay group on campus
would meet off campus. They would
announce the times and dates of the
meetings and staple the notice shut and put it
in your mailbox so others couldn’t see it and
so you wouldn’t be outed. The membership
was kept secret. It just didn’t feel safe. But the
Class of 1994 that came up behind me was
this amazing group of very out and proud
students. They changed the dynamic of the
school by being their authentic selves.
We held the first LGBTQ student-sponsored
social event, in 1993. I was proud of that.
You once quoted someone as saying,
“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re
probably on the menu.” Do you feel that all
Americans in the military have a seat at the
table? I think transgender service members
were given a seat, and now that chair has
been pulled out from under them. The military
has changed so much in the 37 years since
I took my oath at Annapolis. Women serve in
submarines. Women can go through infantry
training. Women can fly combat missions.
But it’s still evolving in terms of integration of
women. There’s still sexual harassment, and
sexual assault is a big problem that the military
still needs to address. But we’ve gotten greater
visibility to it and are getting support to change
the culture around that.
What leadership qualities do you look for in
others? The ability to listen and empathize.
The ability to overcome obstacles and resilience
in doing so. Authenticity and transparency.
And basic integrity — being true to your word
and standing up for what’s right.
Any unforgivable sins when it comes to
leadership? Hypocrisy. Asking folks to do what
you won’t do yourself. And creating a culture
or an atmosphere of bullying or harassment.
A leader can either contribute to a culture of
harassment, turn a blind eye to it, or actively
seek to eradicate it.
Do you have any specific or general advice
for incoming Stanford GSB students? Take
the course on interpersonal dynamics. That
was probably the most important course I took
and it has served me well throughout this
entire process and in my civilian career as well.
That class provides an amazing laboratory
to experiment and learn about yourself.
Emotional intelligence. Active listening.
Influence. Those are critical things to learn.
I guess my broader advice to prospective
students, current students, and even alums
is to follow your heart and passion. What’s
the school’s vision? “Change lives. Change
organizations. Change the world.” Follow that
vision. You never know what will happen. Δ
coming out and challenging the policy. It was
counter to the values of my education at the
Naval Academy, which was all about honor,
courage, and commitment.
Why was coming out publicly at that 1993
Stanford GSB rally such a critical moment
for you? I had transitioned to the reserves
because I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye
to the military yet. When the organizer of
the rally asked me to speak, my gut reaction
was “No, why would I create turmoil at this
point?” But I kept thinking, “What would I say
if I did say something?” In many ways, the
leadership training I received in the military
and at Stanford made me question the ethics
of that. It made me think twice about whether
I could make a difference.
You called your sisters beforehand and
warned them what might be coming,
right? My one sister, Amy Dunning, was
a Marine Corps JAG officer and a lesbian
herself. She gave me great legal advice as
I went into this. During those 13 years I was
openly gay in the Navy, she was closeted in
the Marine Corps Reserve.
What kind of conversations did you have
with her? She was proud of me, but she
didn’t feel like she was willing to step forward
herself at that point. Her contribution was
to just do a good job. At my first discharge
hearing, she testified about my moral
character and upbringing, about our mother
having served in the military, and about how
she hoped they would allow me to continue
my career. At the hearing, one of the officers
on the administrative discharge board asked
my sister point blank whether she, too, was
a lesbian, under oath. My attorney objected,
the objection was sustained, he withdrew
the question, and she never responded. But
there was this incredibly long, painful silence
before our attorney objected. And my sister
has told me since that she sometimes reflects
back and wonders how her life would have
been different if she’d answered the question.
Does she regret that? She often talks about
how I had this big retirement ceremony on
the flight deck of the USS Hornet, and there
were media there, and it was a big deal. I was
piped over the side with my wife on my arm
— the first time that had ever been done
with a same-sex couple. My sister actually
outranked me. She reached the rank of
colonel and had a much more prestigious