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30 years after 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' gay airman reflects on serving

Biff Boswell explains how he hid his sexuality to keeps his job.
30 years after 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' gay airman reflects on serving
Posted at 12:38 PM, Jun 05, 2023

When Biff Boswell was interviewed for security clearance in 2001 as he joined the Air Force, the military interviewer asked, “Is there anything out there that we should know about?” 

Boswell told the interviewer that he "hooked up with a guy." That answer sent the interviewer to close the door suddenly, questioning Boswell if he was struggling with his sexuality. 

“It didn’t occur to me that it could end my career,” Boswell, now 44, said of the interview.

A native of Amarillo, Texas, who was accepted into several colleges, Boswell needed the military job because his family didn’t have the means to pay for tuition. He denied that he was gay, completed the interview and joined the Hill Air Force Base in Utah. For the next six years in the Air Force, including a tour in Iraq, he would embark on a secret double life that included conversion therapy and rejecting his true sexuality. 

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the United States enacting the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy that allowed gay people to serve in the military. In December of 1993, the policy was issued under a Department of Defense directive and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. It prohibited the military from discriminating against closeted gays or bisexual service members. The law also prohibited gays from disclosing their sexual orientation or from speaking about any same-sex relationships in the armed forces.

From February of 1994 to September of 2011, Don't Ask, Don't Tell was the official federal policy for gays serving in the military. When the law was repealed, service members previously discharged for their LGBTQ+ status were offered re-enrollment. 

Boswell served six years in the Air Force, left on his own terms, fighting his sexual identity much of the time. He worked part-time as a bouncer at a gay bar during his military service, but denied that he was gay. When he came out to his parents in 2002, they asked him to go to conversion therapy as a Mormon. He did so to appease his mother, taking on a cycle of fasting and praying. Three years into his service, Boswell’s father accepted that his son was gay and serving in the military. But not all his colleagues were supportive.

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Boswell recalls when a fellow airman reported suspicion that Boswell was gay to an officer. The officer responded by asking the informant if Boswell was doing his job, which he replied, yes. No charges were ever pursued.

“What people don’t understand is, it’s not a 9 to 5 job,” Boswell said. “It’s who we are."

That makes being gay in the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell era in the military difficult, Boswell said. Gay service members could not bring their significant others to military events nor could they welcome their partners home after a deployment.   

On the 10th anniversary of the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2021, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that being inclusive helps strengthen the nation’s defenses. 

“By insisting on standards of merit and allowing to serve in uniform all those who are qualified, we avail ourselves of more talent, better leaders and innovative solutions to the security challenges we face around the world," Austin said. 

Boswell is now married and living with his husband, Jeffery Diduch, in Perinton, New York. He keeps in touch with his fellow service members through social media and meets gay military service members who thank him for being courageous. 

“People thank you for your service. I and most other veterans are just doing our jobs,” Boswell said.  “We were just doing what was right. We just had to weather the storm, hope it would get better.”      

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