Gay Marine returns
for SF Fleet Week
by Matthew S. Bajko
Garth Langley grew up in San Carlos and graduated from California State University East Bay with degrees in political science and criminal justice. As a boy he spent many days hanging out at a hair salon on Church Street in San Francisco where his mom worked.
He now lives in Carlsbad south of Camp Pendleton where he is a public affairs officer for the United States Marine Corps. A first lieutenant with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Langley handles media requests and writes up press releases for the base.
This week he is stationed out of the Marines Memorial Club Hotel near San Francisco's Union Square juggling reporters' inquiries about the goings on for this year's Fleet Week as the spokesman for the Marine Corps.
The annual civic celebration of the military kicked off Wednesday, October 3 and runs through Tuesday, October 9. It coincides with Langley's 25th birthday on Monday and marks the first time he is representing the armed services during the ceremonies as an out gay man.
Langley began coming out in January to family, friends, and coworkers after being assigned to the southern California base. Having been embraced not only by his relatives but also his military commanders and fellow Marines, Langley hopes to use his experience to help other service members come out of the closet.
"I decided that I would come out and never look back. It is why I feel so strongly that I want to engage with people about this," he said. "I want people in the military who are gay or lesbian to know it is not as bad as they think to come out."
Since he decided to be honest not only with himself but others about his sexual orientation, Langley said he feels less anxiety and more comfortable at work.
"I no longer have to hide it or be in a false relationship," said Langley, who since June has been dating an accountant whose father is a retired Marine.
Since arriving at Camp Pendleton earlier this year Langley has had a crash course in handling media events. On his second day in the job he assisted with Vice President Joe Biden's visit. In July he worked with the media on coverage of gay and lesbian Marines marching in the San Diego Pride Parade for the first time in their uniforms.
"It was a proud moment," recalled Langley of seeing his coworker, Marine Corporal Jennifer Pirante, be one of three out enlisted Marines march in the parade.
When he first enlisted in 2007, Langley did so while the anti-gay policy known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," was in full effect. He still has the documents he signed declaring that he was not a homosexual.
Congress and President Barack Obama repealed the ban on gay and lesbian service members serving openly in December 2010. The homophobic policy was officially lifted last September just weeks prior to the 2011 Fleet Week observance in San Francisco.
This year there are no official events designed specifically for those gay, lesbian or bisexual military men and women in town for Fleet Week (a ban against transgender service members is still in effect). Nonetheless, Langley has been fielding requests from out colleagues about what to do or where to go while in town.
"A lot of Marines who know I am gay have come forward and asked me since I am the public affairs person what sort of interaction is going on in the Castro, and if I am planning anything. Despite not personally planning a function, I want to at least ensure they all come to the Castro in uniform and be proud of their service to our country," he told the Bay Area Reporter.
Langley plans to visit the city's gay Castro district while wearing his liberty or leave uniform comprised of a khaki shirt and dress blue pants. The experience he expects will be a "momentous" one for him and the handful of fellow gay Marines who are also in town for Fleet Week.
"For gay Marines and sailors it is not just an opportunity to participate in some unique events but to take pride in being an out sailor or Marine," said Langley. "Fleet Week is an opportunity for me to be home in the Bay Area in my hometown being a gay Marine and being completely comfortable about it."
More than 2,500 Marines and sailors aboard the USS Makin Island are participating in the 31st annual Fleet Week this year. In addition to Langley's unit, members of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Combat Logistics Regiment 1 and the 1st Marine Division Band are participating.
"Fleet Week is a San Francisco tradition and we take this opportunity to salute the men and women in uniform serving and protecting our country," stated Mayor Ed Lee.
While the weekend aerial maneuvers of the Blue Angels are the biggest draw for the public, there are multiple events happening over the course of the week. There are band concerts, weapon displays, demos on the Marine's humanitarian assistance, meet and greets with military K9 units, and tours of the USS Malkin, the first U.S. military hybrid vessel.
For a complete list of activities visit http://www.fleetweek.us.