A former Cannon Air Force Base lieutenant colonel spoke Friday at Eastern New Mexico University about how his life was affected by the recently-eliminated Don't Ask Don't Tell policy.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ross Whitmore is now stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, and served at Cannon from 2006 to last year. He has two daughters, Lauren and Madeline, who attend ENMU.
"Courage, patriotism and dedication have no sexual orientation," Whitmore said. "It doesn't matter who you love or who you want to marry. It's your competence that matters."
Whitmore noted that he was only speaking for himself and not as a spokesman for any base or the Air Force as a whole.
Before DADT was repealed in September, Whitmore said he lived in fear of being outed as a gay man, though he had married and had two children.
He said he has always loved his work as a mental health specialist in the Air Force but he hated having to lie about his sexuality before the policy's repeal.
"In those darkest days, the only thing that got me out of bed and through my day was my two girls," said Whitmore, his voice breaking with emotion. "I remember how helpless I felt. It got to a point where I was not in a good place. This policy in a very real way interfered with me getting help."
"I take so much pride in what I do (in the military) but I lived in fear all the time (before the repeal)," Whitmore said. "The 22nd of September was the first time in 16 years I fell asleep without worrying about being fired for being who I was."
Whitmore said he and his wife separated temporarily because of the issue. They reconciled, but she was diagnosed with cancer in 2007 and died eight months later.
"I went from being a married gay military member to being a single dad in eight months," he said.
Whitmore said now that DADT has been repealed, the next step is for gay couples to gain equal rights and status with heterosexual couples.
"As young people, you understand the power of change," he said. "My hope is that we, as a community and as forward-thinking people, will continue to push our society for equality."
Along with ENMU faculty and students, local residents also attended the event to listen, including some CAFB airmen.
"It definitely takes courage to do that, especially in his position," said Chris Trevino, an senior airman at Cannon who attended the event out of curiosity. "I think he's one of the bravest men I've met."
Whitmore's daughters said they were proud of their father for how open and outspoken he is being.
"It doesn't change anything,' Lauren Whitmore said. "My dad is my dad."