J.T. Chestnut Says He Went AWOL While Under Investigation For Homosexuality; Now He’s Off To Stand Trial

JTChestnutJ.T. Chestnut says he didn't want to join the army. But his father exerted the peculiar pressure disapproving fathers can sometimes exert on their gay sons, and in 2007 he sent 18-year-old J.T. off to enlist. The army would toughen him up, dad hoped. “Straighten” him up. It didn't work. According to J.T.:

 … [two] months before basic training graduation, I was led on by a guy and was framed for homosexual conduct.

During the investigation, I was constantly bullied for my "lifestyle" of being gay and for being who I was. This time for me was very depressing, horrible, and I was desperate to get out. In late November of 2007, I went AWOL and moved to California.

Once in West Hollywood, J.T. recreated himself as a happy gay man and activist. He discovered what he calls his family among open-minded Los Angelinos. And then:

… on Oct 31st 2011, I was arrested in West Hollywood on the way to a friend's house for no reason at all. The sheriffs found about my warrant and took me in. I was just released from LA County Jail but have to report to Fort Sill, Oklahoma to surrender myself in. I am frightened, scared, and worried that I will be physically hurt for my being openly gay. This is where I need your help.

Please post my story on your FB, blogs, twitter, and etc in hopes of more people hearing me out and supporting me. I do not want to serve time and I have not been this afraid ever in my life. I want to continue to live the life I am living here in LA. Please help me.

J.T. appends his story with an apology to his West Hollywood friends, in whom he apparently never confided about his army past:

PS. I'm so sorry for not sharing this dark secret. It causes too much but knowing u guys made life worth living. I love you. And while I am away..please don't forget about me.

Kevin Miniter, of the Fred Karger campaign, has launched this petition at Change.org in the hopes of securing JT's pardon.

[Pic: Courtesy of WeHo Confidential]


  1. Mary says

    Sorry, no sympathy. The guy signed a contract and then went AWOL. Now, after 30 days it’s considered desertion. If we were at war a deserter could be ordered put to death (only happen once).

    So really, which is worse? Finishing basic or even getting chaptered out or, committing a crime and getting a bad conduct discharge or prison time?

    Using the gay thing is lame – more fuel for the fire.

  2. CAHBF says

    Seriously? Are we supposed to just believe this guy because he’s gay? there were many options available to him and he went AWOL like an entitled baby. No sympathy whatsoever, and I’m not sure why Towleroad considers this news. Newsflash-most criminals are full of excuses (and this isn’t exactly a compelling one)…go figure. If he went AWOL, he deserves to go to jail. being gay and scared is not a criminal defense.

  3. Mary says

    I can see Mary’s point here. But THIS Mary is a bit more understanding of this young man’s situation. His father should never have pressured him to join – military life is not for everyone. However, it sounds to me like was getting bullied by everyone – first his father and then fellow soldiers. Bullying is brutal and I can understand why if it was severe enough, he’d go AWOL. I’m just glad this guy didn’t end up a suicide case. My own preference would be that he be discharged and not have to serve any jail time for desertion. He showed bad judgment in joining up and bad judgment in not simply admitting his homosexuality when caught. But bad judgment is not a crime one should be jailed for. I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a liberal!

    And for the record I’m the Mary who is the visitor from the other side who is trying to learn more about the gay community. The first post was not written by me.

  4. Mary in Iowa says

    This is the first Mary. Yes, I feel for the guy, but have seen a lot of AWOL folks and a lot of people who should never have join military service. I think he should have stood up and just not joined.

    Don’t get me wrong. The most that will come of this is a bad conduct discharge and a life of bad employment if anyone ever checks his history.

  5. Mary in Iowa says

    ps, when AWOL goes 30 days long a FEDERAL warrant is issued. Ah, that might be the reason for “no reason at all”. I think J.T. did have a chance to ‘grow-up’ in the military but now he’s crying on shoulders.

    Mary, ‘bad judgement’ is part of all crime.

  6. Jose Soto says

    He signed the contract and now he is crying to Andy… wah wah… go to jail so you will learn.

    And the military life is NOT for every gay person. Most gay soldiers are TOUGH and WANT to serve… he VOLUNTARY signed on to join an institution that is very machista… he SHOULD of known of that before he signed on the dotted line.

    Others who went AWOL faced jail time as well, i personally know of one who was ‘forced’ by his family to join, and was picked on in the marines, but of course Brandon and Andy don’t give a hoot for this guy because he is STRAIGHT… in the spirit of EQUALITY… lock this coward up as well.

  7. Barbara says

    Judge, judge, judge. None of us know what he went through. I’m not signing the change.org petition but neither am I saying he wasn’t justified in his alleged fears. Hopefully a dishonorable dc & be done with it.

  8. bandanajack says

    where are all you people coming from? recently have been seeing one new name after another espousing points of view not at all in common with the folks who regularly participate here. not just differing opinions, but either radically left or radically right of prevailing opinions… almost as if trying to trigger incendiary statements…

  9. anon says

    The kid had a difficult set of choices to make. Based on certain early choices, he made further choices. Joining the military when he didn’t want to was a bad choice apparently….which snowballed into a further bad choice to go AWOL. Fears can be dealt with, but bad choices don’t make things go away. Breaking the law (a choice on his part) results in punishment..

    Being a Catholic, I understand that some choices that break the ‘law’ in order to preserve life (like stealing food when you are truly homeless and without recourse) is not considered sinful, but you are still subject to civil authority.

    In the application of law, there is always room for justice to be fair and understanding…. when warranted.

    I think this guy may need to understand that some choices are best not made in favor of better choices (even if they don’t directly give you what you want). In other words, growing up and accepting responsibility for one’s actions.

  10. adam says

    This kid is old enough to know better. Sorry, at 18, “my dad made me do it” is a ridiculous excuse. “I got arrested for no reason” doesn’t make sense…and going AWOL is just plain stupid.

  11. Sailor says

    As a service member, I have NO sympathy for this kid. You’re a deserter – the MOST dishonorable thing you can do in the military. Stop using your sexuality as a scapegoat, and serve your time!

  12. gavin says

    sorry no sympathy….you signed the documents and pledged to uphold the highest standards anyone in america can. it’s point blank you were old enough to say no i don’t want to join but you did anyway. this now that you have made an adult decision to run away from your responsibilities do not try to make it easier by saying it is because you are homosexual. i have been in the military for a while and seen what is had to offer,dealt with bigot’s, and maintained my personal life. btw i am a gay military man. notice military came first thats because it is in our oath.

  13. gavin says

    and another thing this started in 2007. the DADT policy was definitely in effect when you decided to go AWOL.the only time they do a full out investigation is if you deny the accusations of being gay. you had so many options to get out but no you ran away. whoever the man is that is trying to get a petition to save you is wrong.

  14. Paul R says

    Saying “he was only 18!” is ridiculous. He could have run away from his father instead of joining the military. Plenty of 18 year olds have suffered a lot worse and handled it a lot better.

  15. marion dragulescu says

    sorry, no sympathy here either. create agency in your life. take the reins; with them comes responsibility. the observation that he plays victim seems particularly apt given his choice of words.

  16. Brishette says

    I feel no sympathy for him, at all. Call it rude or what have you, but I’m currently in the Army and deployed to Afghanistan. I serve proudly and happily, if I might add. I’m “out”, all of my fellow Soldiers and friends now that I am a lesbian and I have no problems. Going AWOL for fear of what? It’s ridiculous. I joined while DADT was still in effect and I knew what I was getting myself into, sworn to a life of secrecy with the hope that I could one day let my true colors show, lol. For the record, I have never ever had my life threatened physically because of my sexuality. SO, I’m sorry, but I have to say, drive on, drink water. There were other ways to go about handling the situation. Just saying…

  17. David Comfort says

    I am shocked by how heartless so many of these comments are. Show a little compassion and understanding, for Christsakes! Everyone makes bad choices, especially at a young age and under a father’s pressure. I almost think 18 is too young to join the military in the first place, but that is besides the point. Our community should offer him our love and support, especially after being bullied and intimidated in the military for being gay. Show a little heart and forgiveness!

  18. Gray says

    I actually know him and to be honest, this story is heartbreaking. To all of you who are being harsh – imagine yourself as this kid. Just ridiculous- not all laws are best applied to all situations… as we all know.

  19. Rich says

    I guess that JT’s defense is that he signed the enlistment contract under duress. What makes the case awkward is that the duress was not at the hands of the Army.

    At the end of the day, JT should not be forced to return to active duty. Involuntary servitude is incompatible with a professional military.

    He certainly did not earn an honorable discharge and perhaps some incarceration is appropriate in lieu of damages, but as a taxpayer, I’d like that term to be minimal.

  20. says

    Well the Gays strike AGAIN…Blacks can get no respect from some of you guys WHATSOEVER.

    These god awful comments!
    However lets flip all of and talk about that white queen who sold secrets to Wikileaks UMMMMM What’s his name oh yeah BRADLEY MANNING!!!

    This community is so sad and pathetic. I think it’s time for the main stream media to expose the racism in the Gay community!

  21. says

    @Chris: I was thinking the EXACT same thing. A “con man in the making”. Please. I know what they’re actually thinking. He’s black. So he’s obviously a criminal.
    And you’re correct, there is quite a bit of racism in the gay community. Totally unacceptable.

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  23. Brian in Texas says

    @ Chris


    Bradley Manning is deified around here after “allegedly” accessing government files and then stealing and leaking them to a foreign entity while on the battlefield.

    Where is the sympathy or compassion for this guy? He was only 18 at the time!

  24. Hal says

    @Chris, BMF, and Brian

    Excuse me. Black gay servicemember (sailor if you want to be specific) here, who also has no sympathy for this schmuck. Granted, I joined when I was two years older than he was when he joined, but age is still no excuse. Going AWOL is one of the worst things you can do. It is compounded in this case because this is a very similar act done in the past by people only pretending to be gay because they discovered the military isn’t just “a way to pick up chicks”. He embarrasses me because we all worked hard to get to the point were we could serve openly, and now our enemies are going to point to this guy and say “This is way gays shouldn’t be in the military.” They already do that with Manning. I already took offense when people were here saying we should blindly support him because he claims to be gay, but thanks for angering me even greater by implying I should blindly support him because I happen to share skin tone with him.

    While we’re on the subject of this guy and manning, we as a community need to pick better people to support.

  25. Brian in Texas says

    @ Hal

    Who said you should support him because you both are black? Everyone here agrees what he did was wrong. We were just commenting on the difference in outrage and deification of J.T. and Bradley.

  26. Mox says

    He deserves it. Sympathizers of this kid are living out of touch with reality. The people being harsh on him, probably have served or are serving actively right now, and they ask you WHEN YOU SIGN THE DOTTED LINE “Do you sign this contract of your own free will and understanding of what your military service entails?”

    Get a clue. There are far better options than going AWOL. I’ve toughed it out as a military member who is gay. Not once have I wanted out, but I am aware of the avenues that are legal for me to take.

  27. elg/edwin says

    I agree with Chris on this.

    If this teenager was an 18 year old blond twink, the comments here would be much more supportive and all of you know this!

  28. DerickWade says

    Oh for God’s sake. He was an 18 yr old kid. Neuroscience affirms that the prefrontal lobe, responsible for such things as dampening impulsivity and enhancing the ability to predict the consequences of our actions, that this brain lobe does not fully mature until around age 25.He was a child with a child’s brain. Add to that the very difficult task of maintaining emotional stability on a daily basis in the armed services if one is even slightly perceived to be gay. I know firsthand as a gay Marine that ignorance can be relentless in its hatred.
    So he signed a damn contract. Contracts are broken all the time. WE send our young men, many of them black, off to die..and for what? Oil? Imperialistic greed? Heterosexuals violate the contract of marriage in atleast 50% of total cases, and that contract, unlike a military one, is deemed SACRED.Maybe divorced folk should be put to death too?

    For those of you who would throw him to the wolves and site such arcane nonsense as “Desertion during wartime is punishable by death”, sew your mouths shut. You know what else actually does end in death for many young servicemen? Unnecessary wars instigated by unconscionable Leaders. If you are so offended then why not do your duty, take his place and join the military. Most Americans never serve a day. Are they really any better than a confused boy who actually did serve, regardless of duration?
    Derick Wade, War Veteran. MALS 29 USMC

  29. SUSPICIOUS says

    I know/knew JT personally from living in Hollywood, and I came to the conclusion quite some time ago that you can’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth, and I sincerely doubt any of this current tale is true. The last story he told me about being pulled over by the cops “for no reason” culminated in them both forcing him to give them BJs. I also know that of the two marathons he told me he ran, he didn’t. I also find it suspicious that he’s now appealing on Facebook for people NOT to petition the US army on his behalf, but instead to simply donate money to him via PayPal. The marathon point may sound petty, but it’s the big ridiculous/unbelievable lies interspersed with pointless petty lies that I find so troubling and evidence of deep-seated psychological problems. I think there’s a story here, but I don’t believe it’s the one that’s being reported on.

  30. Scumbag says

    J.T. is a liar, a thief, and a con artist. This is karma at its finest. I hope he goes away for awhile and finally learns a lesson. He will play the “poor southern gay boy” card as much as he can and it is about time he is held accountable. I can’t wait to hear what he was really arrested for. This should be good.

  31. Gianpiero says


    I’m hear you. The Sheriff’s deputies in West Hollywood are not known (in recent times) for pulling people over “for no reason.” That was the biggest flag for me in the whole story. I ran into Chestnut a few times a couple years ago and he struck me as an upbeat guy, but you couldn’t help but wonder what his real story was.

  32. scrufff says

    NOTHING IS GOING to happened to him.

    a friend of mine recently went thru the EXACT same thing. you’re not REALLY in the army until you are assigned to a unit. and since he did not complete his boot camp training thus has not been assigned to a unit, he’s not officially a soldier. at fort sill, they have a volunteer staffed office to process these types of awols. It will take about five days, during which he will be expected to do some light work; cleaning, sweeping etc. and then he will be released. it will be on his record so he won’t be able to work for any type of government job and probably wouldn’t be able to get a job that requires being bonded. but thats the extant of it.

  33. Danny says

    I can easily see how he made bad decisions based on pressure (and identity issues) he didn’t know how to manage or resolved. his father doesnt exactly sound like a good, loving role-model.

    moreover the small-heartedness and small-mindedness in this thread is nauseatiing. I for one would never in a million years want to be held accountable for what I believed and decisions I made when I was 18.

    What the devil is wrong with you people?

  34. kj says

    it’s funny all of you say ‘no sympathy’ but i bet none of you would like to serve either. yes, let’s ship this boy off to he can die for you cold hearted bastards

  35. says

    i just think it’s interesting that the military, when you really break it down, is seeking to punish someone for running away before they could kick him out.

    all of this “you can’t go AWOL” or “you can’t go AWOL during a time of war” seems awfully stupid when we consider that the military had no problem ousting people, at a great financial cost, simply for being gay for decades.

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