When Katie Miller ’12 met her suitemates last week, she had to introduce herself with a reporter from The Hartford Courant in tow.
Miller transferred to Morse College this year from the United States Military Academy at West Point in reaction to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which bans service members from openly displaying their homosexual orientation or homosexual behaviors. Miller, who identifies as a lesbian, said she wanted her resignation to have an impact, and since she posted her resignation letter on an anonymous blog she had been keeping since May, her story has drawn national attention.
“I felt I was in a position where I could make a change,” she said in an interview with the News. “I didn’t want to walk away from West Point with my head down.”
Now, she has been interviewed by The New York Times, the Rachel Maddow Show, NPR, The Los Angeles Times and ABC News. Today she talks with the BBC.
“Everything just sort of blew up at the exact same time,” she said. “How ironic that [the discipline of West Point training] prepares me for situations like this.”
DECIDING TO LEAVE
Miller takes her training very seriously. News reports often introduce her by her class rank (ninth out of 1,157) and her GPA (3.829).
Miller said in an interview that she was attracted to West Point for its holistic educational approach, which helped her to grow academically, athletically and “militaristically,” she said. But emotionally, Miller said she felt stunted, leading a double life. She said she had to substitute male pronouns when describing a relationship with an ex-girlfriend. In her resignation letter, she said the stress of realizing she wanted to leave kept her awake at night for an entire semester, calling it “constant cognitive dissonance.” These lies, she said, compromised her integrity, a key pillar of the academy’s honor code.
The one other West Point transfer currently enrolled in Yale, Max Hendrickson ’11, attested to the seriousness of that code.
“I lied about changing my socks, and I got reported,” he said. “By my roommate, actually. I almost got kicked out for not changing my socks.”
He said he could barely think of a single similarity between Yale and West Point.
At the academy, Miller discovered other LGBT cadets living in a covert social scene. She played on the rugby team and during matches met a few lesbians from other schools — including Yale.
In the summer before a West Point cadet’s junior year, he or she must sign a contract committing to seven years in uniform, Miller said. She said she started seriously considering a transfer last winter, though she said she had tooled with the idea during her freshman year.
Before attending a dinner in late March during an internship in Washington, D.C. with the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an organization that supports LGBT people who serve or have served in the military, she contacted Knights Out, an organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender West Point graduates and allies, and requested seating at their table.
Sue Fulton, co-founder of Knights Out and their current spokeswoman, said she became Miller’s “sounding board” for her future college (and military) plans. After Miller decided she would leave West Point publicly, Fulton said she used the media contacts of Knights Out to help Miller publicize her departure.
Miller’s story is especially powerful, Fulton said, because of her achievements at West Point prior to her resignation.
“The notion that there are gays in the military and that they can succeed still comes as a surprise to some people,” Fulton said.
Knights Out does not actively encourage cadets to “come out” and leave the Army, and allows cadets to join as only LGBT allies, Fulton said. She called Miller’s resignation a “tragedy” because the Army lost “a great potential officer.”
GOING OUT WITH A BANG
Before her resignation was officially accepted, Miller remained at West Point, where she had to complete routine cadet duties while also busily giving interviews.
The night she appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show, Miller was running late from dinner. In 10 minutes, she set up a webcam, posted a friend to guard the door, threw on a fresh uniform, and shushed some fellow cadets hiding in the corner of her room. An hour later they watched her face on TV.
“I was slightly traumatized by what I did,” Miller said. “We were just packing tobacco — I was so stressed out.”
In fact, Miller was disobeying orders from West Point, which had forbidden her from doing the interview after another student passed word of the interview to the administration. Service members are also forbidden from giving interviews in uniform.
Still, after the incident, Miller continued to give interviews with news outlets without disciplinary consequences. When a reporter from NPR called at a scheduled time, Miller had to ask for two minutes to sprint across campus for privacy in a vacant room.
Miller said she received largely supportive reactions from friends. There were a few nasty e-mails — not about her sexuality, but about the publicity she purposefully courted.
According to Miller, the officer reviewing her resignation thought Miller was “throwing her life away.” She recalled that he thought she should be able to sacrifice a small portion of her life to remain in the service.
West Point did not respond to an e-mail request for comment sent Sunday.
Hendrickson, Fulton and Nicholas Leppla ’11 , who transferred to Yale from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., all emphasized that the military is not inherently homophobic.
“I frankly don’t think the proportion of outwardly bigoted people is any more in the military,” Hendrickson said.
Miller said that after she came out at West Point, some of her fellow cadets approached her and apologized that she had needed to keep her sexuality a secret.
COMING TO YALE
Miller said she hopes to explore her lesbian identity, now that she is free to do so, at Yale.
“I heard Yale was friendly to the LGBT community and I wanted to learn about myself that way,” she said. “I wanted to flourish because I’ve been repressed.”
Miller said she is considering the idea of picking up rugby at Yale after playing during her freshman year at West Point. Sophia Shapiro ’11, who is on the board of the LGBT co-op and is a co-captain of the women’s rugby club, said the team is welcoming.
“Everyone is really proud of what Katie has done,” said Shapiro, who met Miller at a rugby party last year.
However, it was Yale’s ability to challenge Miller academically and prepare her to be a leader of social change that really drew her here, Miller said. She was majoring in sociology at West Point and will continue to do so at Yale.
Miller calls her time at Yale so far “a whirlwind — seeing the openness of culture, not just in sociability, but in a diversity of thought.”
She has said in earlier interviews that were “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to be repealed, she would immediately apply for readmission. In her interview with the News, she said that she wants to keep her options open and would consider the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Yale. (In November, 2009, University Secretary Linda Lorimer said Yale would pursue the creation of an ROTC program on campus if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” were repealed.)
“We know that [Miller] will serve her country in one way or another,” Fulton said.
Correction: Sept. 1, 2010
An earlier version of this article misstated the class year of Sophia Shapiro ’11, as well as her position on the women’s rugby team. Shapiro is a current, not a former, co-captain.