Carrier: An Interview with Quartermaster Brian Downey

How was it serving under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’?

It wasn’t really much of an issue for anybody. I can’t speak for everybody, but for me it wasn’t an issue. At the time I didn’t have a problem with it. Before, when I said I had to make sacrifices, [I meant that] quite honestly there were far more things bigger than myself. I’m [not] there to make a statement, I’m there to do my job.

Did anybody who found out about your sexuality give you a hard time?

Nobody really. It’s not like I said ‘hey this, hey that, blah blah blah.’ It’s not like I advertised it. I wasn’t a big queen running down the passageways and stuff. There were people that knew. And if they knew, they knew. If they didnt they didnt, big deal.

NimitzDid you feel like there was homophobia aboard the ship and how did you deal with it?

You always feel like you want to change somebody’s mind. You can’t do that for somebody but you can definitely help turn their mind in a different direction. You always want to help somebody try to understand better. In a lot of people’s minds I’m gonna walk around with a limp wrist, and have a switch in my walk, and I’m gonna lisp up and down all day, you know?

I had a friend on the ship – he was an awesome guy, masculine as they come – we used to be workout buddies. He’d always spot me, I’d always spot him. I never thought of anything really and when he found out he was like ‘dude we work out together’ and [I said to him] ‘I’m not gonna invade your privacy and your space and on top of that you’re not my type anyway, so why would I?’ And he’s like, ‘Why not? I don’t think I’m a bad looking guy.’ I said, ‘No you’re not. You’re a good looking guy but I’m just not gonna go there.’ And it really made him understand a little more that people out there who are gay [can be] very mellow and kick back, and just normal.

People would joke with me because they noticed I took care of myself in a way that most of the guys didn’t. I made sure I was clean shaven. I made sure my hair was regulation but still stylish (laughs) but not too much. I got along with a lot of guys there. One guy would call me ‘Princess’ every now and then because I spent more time getting ready. I was always ironing my uniform. You could always wear your coveralls as long as they were clean and pressed. I was always in my utilities, I always kind of presented myself very well, and he was like, ‘Why do you always wear that?’ And I said, ‘Because I take pride in what I’m doing.’ Once he found out (I was gay) he was just kind of like ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry, I hope you werent offended.’ He was always ragging on me for being who I was.

There were people that I’m sure felt uneasy but it’s not like I bothered them or wanted to be close buddies or anything. There were a lot of guys I knew who had mixed feelings about it. When I first came in somebody wanted to fight me because they thought I was a certain some way or another and then one night he came back on the ship drunk off his ass one night and I kind of put him in his place about it.

How do you feel about the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy in general?

Iin this day and age and the way things are changing, if they drop it I don’t see that it would be a big deal for anybody. People know each other on the ship. And that’s just in the little community itself. If they were to drop the policy I’m sure it wouldn’t cause much of a security risk for anybody. It’s always been around — there have always been people in the military that have served that are gay. And people that have been in great positions — people that are in very high positions — and if it were dropped I’m sure it wouldn’t be a big deal. We’re not here to freak you out, we’re here to try to do something with you – we need to do our job and do it well. We just happen to be a little different — just like blacks were different, just like women were different. Well before those times there were gays in the military. I think it would be a very big social uplifting, an awakening for people.

The 10-hour documentary series continues tonight through Thursday on PBS from 9-11pm ET (check local listings).

PreviouslyCarrier: Jeff Dupre Talks About Life Aboard the USS Nimitz [tr]