Brian Hughes ’05 — formerly ’00 — left Yale before the end of his senior year to serve four years in the U.S. Army Rangers. He spent much of his service time in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he participated in the April 2003 rescue of Private Jessica Lynch. For the entire time, he kept one important secret from his superiors and his fellow Rangers: he is gay.

Along with 29 other gay, lesbian and bisexual service members, Hughes participated in a study at the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities at the University of California at Santa Barbara. According to the study, the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on gay troops is harming the morale of gay soldiers, undermining cohesion and keeping qualified soldiers out of the service.

“When gays are out, they report greater success in bonding, morale, professional advancement, levels of commitment & retention and access to essential support services,” the Center said in a press release. ‘”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ impairs the capacity of gay troops to develop bonds of trust, minimize stress, prepare for deployment, focus on their mission, advance professionally and access support services, including medical and psychological consultations.”

Hughes — who returned to Yale this year to finish his last semester — said he anticipated the difficulties of being a gay man in the military, which adopted its current policy on gays in 1993. But he said he became disturbed by the enforcement of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, especially when he found out that the military fired several Arabic linguists, who are in high demand by the military, after they revealed they were gay. Hughes gradually became withdrawn and despondent because he knew his sexual orientation would not be accepted in an atmosphere he otherwise loved, he said.

“I worried I would slip up and say something to my friends,” Hughes said. “In the military, you can correct people for saying racist and sexist things, but not for anything homophobic.”

Hughes had difficulty leaving the Rangers, an elite division of combat soldiers, he said. But the stressful family lives of senior officers and the burden of suppressing his sexual orientation convinced him to leave the military last August after his contract expired.

“I decided I would not have been able to continue serving, especially if I knew the military would not acknowledge any possible partners I might have,” he said.

Yale LGBTQ Cooperative Coordinator Justin Ross ’07 said he thinks the fact that Hughes, who appeared on “Good Morning America” last Wednesday, publicized his story will bring new energy to the movement for equality in the military.

“It’s great to know that a Yale student had the courage to stand up to [the current policy],” Ross said. “The most important thing that can happen is for soldiers to change the military from the inside out.”

Law students at Yale have also been involved with the fight for equality in the military. A group of Law School faculty members and gay law students sued the Department of Defense last year, challenging the 1995 Solomon Amendment, which threatens law schools such as Yale’s with the withdrawal of federal funds if they deny military recruiters access to career offices. Because of the military’s policy on gays, the Yale Law School restricted military recruitment until 2001, when the Bush Administration began enforcing the Amendment.

Law students involved with the case said the Solomon Amendment was being unfairly applied against gay law students. The suit — filed on behalf of approximately 50 students at the Yale Law School — is still pending.

Hughes, a mathematics and philosophy major, said he plans to teach high school after he receives his diploma.