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Interview with Carolyn Dusty Pruitt [1/12/2005]

Steve Estes:

My name is Steve Estes; I'm in San Francisco, California. Today is January the 12th, 2005 and I'm interviewing...

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Dusty Pruitt in Aurora, Colorado... over the phone.

Steve Estes:

Dusty, when and where were you born?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Ah, July 19th, 1946 in Ballinger, Texas.

Steve Estes:

Okay and what did your parents do for a living?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

In the beginning my father was a grocer. He owned his own grocery store with my grandparents and one brother and his wife. So the first six years of my life I grew up in this little, uh, mom and pop grocery store that also had a dry goods on the other side and it was a really magical place for a kid to grow up.

Steve Estes:

Was that in Ballinger? Or was that in a different small town?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

It was in a little town that was named after the Bronte Sisters, but of course in Texanese you say, "Brunt." [Shortened pronunciation] [Laughter]

Steve Estes:

Right

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

So Bronte, Texas.

Steve Estes:

So, I read that you kind of bopped around a lot after those first six years in different parts of Texas. What was it like growing up in rural Texas?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Well, um, it was a fun time, you know, because at that particular era in the fifties, kids were pretty carefree, you know. I think today kids can't go anywhere alone, is the sad thing. But you know, we roamed all over rural Texas, and uh, waded through creeks and out through cotton fields and all kinds of things, and just really had a great time. The other thing was that my Dad became a minister whenever [inaudible] I was six. He became a Baptist Minister. And so we went from church to church and I went to like ten different schools before I graduated high school. And the upshot of that was that I learned a lot of good coping skills; how not to get bullied, how to make immediate friends, you know, and...as well as I learned something religiously about, what I would call the culturally of sin. Because like we, we would go to one place in West Texas and it would be a sin to go swimming with the boys, because that revealed too much of your body, you know, but it was okay to smoke cigarettes. And then we moved to Port Arthur, Texas where there was a great big ocean and it was okay to go swimming with the boys, but not to smoke cigarettes. Um, then in some places it was okay to go to the movies, other places it wasn't. So I really learned how relative people's notion of sin was.

Steve Estes:

How'd your Dad deal with that as a minister?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Well, I don't know, because we never really discussed it. It was just something that I picked up as, you know, a young kid growing up and it was just a matter of "Here this is disapproved of, and there that was disapproved of' you know. And so, I don't know how he dealt with it. It stood me in good stead(?) when I first started examining this whole issue of the Bible and homosexuality.

Steve Estes:

We're going to get to that for sure, but, um... How did you, or I should say, why did you decide to join the army?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Well, uh, when I graduated my undergraduate, I actually had three options kind of open to me: I could teach, because I have a teaching credential, I was offered a graduate assistantship at Stephen F. Austin in Spanish, which was my -I had a double major, English and Spanish and so in Spanish, I was offered a graduate assistantship, and that would mean I could've gotten my master's degree in Spanish and gone on to kind of be a linguist, because I was interested in that a little bit, and, uh, then there was the military, which I thought was a pretty good place to go. I had run into some sex discrimination at the time, it was 1970, and the women's lib movement was just kind of taking off and I found trying to apply for various jobs around that my degree got me nowhere, except into a secretarial pool. My friends, my male friends, they got management positions and stuff, but I got ah, my question was, "Can you type?" and "How many words per minute?" So the army looked like a pretty good place to have a nontraditional career without all the trappings, too much of the trappings of the sexist stuff that was going on at the time in Texas.

Steve Estes:

It's interesting that you saw the army as a place where sexism would be less strong than out in the general public.

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Yep, and actually that proved to be true. There were nontraditional jobs there that, you know, they didn't just shove you into a secretarial pool. I wasn't so naive as to believe sexism didn't exist in this good ole' boys army, you know, but it actually turned out to be a place, at least there in that particular period of time, that was not quite a sexist as the general population at the time. The other two things; teaching was a little too provincial -um, I smoked cigarettes at the time, and I went to this one place and interviewed. And they said, "We don't allow our women teachers to smoke cigarettes." [Laughter] And I thought "Phooey on this you know." So that was out, and I thought, "You know, I don't know if I really want to be in any school system where I'm going to be looked at that carefully in the small town thing, you know, they'll all want me to get married and I'm not interested in that, and blah, blah, blah. So, the graduate assistantship didn't offer quite enough money to live on; to pay my car and pay rent and all the stuff that I needed, and still go ahead and go to school. So that left the army, and when they accepted me I decided, "Well, there's two doors shut, I'll go through this one that's open."

Steve Estes:

Now, I read that your Dad had served in World War II, I think in the Army Air Corps? Did that have any impact on your decision to go into the Army?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Ah, yep. He was very supportive of me going in the Army [inaudible], and he thought that that would be a good place for me, a place to, you know, a young kid at twenty-one, I mean twenty-four years old at the time, I was. I had actually taken a couple years out to work before finishing my last two years of college at Stephen Austin, and I actually went through a marriage with a guy. That was just a matter of not knowing who I was. It was pretty -and he was the first one, in fact, to mention I might be a lesbian. [Laughter] Much later after I came out, my mom told my sister she had known from the time I was four years old. I think mothers always know. But at the time I didn't have a clue, and he said something about it, and kind of got me started thinking, but, anyway -he had, my Dad thought it was a good idea for me to go into the military. And, uh, he gave me one sentence of advice that I've carried with me all my life and that is, "Dig the first foxhole." [Laughter]

Steve Estes:

What does that mean to you?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

What he meant by that is, "Don't ask somebody to do something you wouldn't do yourself." And I've always seen myself as somebody who's climbing a mountain you know, and if there are people behind me or beside me, you know, at least I'm there. I'm not saying, "You go up there, and I'll stay down here."

Steve Estes:

So did you get a commission as an officer because you had an undergrad degree?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Yeah, they had a direct commission process for women at the time in order to keep up their numbers of women officers. So, I got a direct commission.

Steve Estes:

And now, you were in the Women's Army Corps in the last years of that corps existence. Can you talk a little bit about what that was like?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Well, uh, it actually was a good place to be away from the center, which was Fort McLellan, that wasn't a very good place to be, because, that was the place where people pretty much made their mark, and there was a lot of climbing the corporate ladder so-to-speak and a lot of competition and everything else. But if you where outside of that particular main view (?), it was a pretty good place to be. And, uh, you just basically had a job, you did it, you came to work and went home.

Steve Estes:

What was your first job in the WAFC (Women's Armed Forces Corps)? (??? Not appropriate acronym... this one is for the Vietnamese women?)

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

I was a trainer. I was part of what was called -I trained basic trainees. I was part of what was called the Field Training Committee, which taught basic survival skills, Bivouac, and CBR (Chemical Biological, Radiological) defense... What happens if a nuclear weapon goes off? What happens if somebody throws chemical weapons on you? And so forth and so on. So, I did that for a year and a half at Fort McLellan. And then I went to recruiting and for another year and a half, about 74' was when they moved of us and closed down the Women's Army Corps.

Steve Estes:

Let me ask you a question about when you were a trainer at first. Were you a Hard-ass?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

No, I think people saw me as nice. I probably wasn't a really hard-ass. But, uh, yeah, I think there are people who are stuck in the process, they want everything to go smoothly and I was, on the other hand, I'd rather have it done right even if it took longer. So I did find myself occasionally butting heads with some people who just wanted it done and don't make any waves, you know. Never mind that it's done right or wrong, just don't make any waves. So, but as far as the basic trainees and everything, I think they thought I was nice.

Steve Estes:

What was your strategy when you became a recruiter? Did you recruit men and women, or were you mostly recruiting women?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

At the time I was recruiting mostly women. The last year I recruited both men and women.

Steve Estes:

So, what was your pitch... -I mean from your personal experience in the military?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

The fact that there... -whenever I left Fort McLellan they began to open up in the enlisted ranks all kinds of nontraditional jobs. And it was interesting because the women would come to me with these expectations that they would either be nurses or medical assistants, ah, or they would be secretaries or they could be in supply. Those were three areas that they knew about and they would come and say, "Could you get me into this job?" And I would try to get them into something, particularly if they came and they were single with children -because there was a period of time, I'm not sure how the Army does it now, but there was a period of time there that they took single women with children and I would say to them, "Maybe you might want to look into this heavy equipment operator job that we have here." Because I was thinking to myself, "Your job as a secretary is going to pay you, at that time maybe $300 bucks a month, but if you go into this heavy equipment operator thing, you could make $800 bucks a month. You know, and that's a lot of difference for a single woman trying to feed a kid. And so, that was my pitch. It was the whole feminist, "let's get them into a nontraditional job" thing. And, it worked; for the most part there were people who went into surveying, there were people who went into heavy equipment operations, the engineer corps, all kinds of things they would never have thought about, probably, if I hadn't said "let's look at this list of jobs that might be open."

Steve Estes:

Let me switch horses a little bit and ask you, what was it like in the beginning when you were serving during the Vietnam War era.

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

[pause] ... I served in the South. First of all, I didn't get too much of the hostility. Occasionally, I would get the anti -cause you'd be walking down the street in your uniform in downtown Dallas and occasionally you'd get some hippies that would want to throw eggs at you, but for the most part, people were pretty supportive. I didn't realize how much I was being affected by the whole issue of the war. I did serve with some Vietnamese, WAFC (Women's Armed Forces Corps) or something like that, and they were Vietnamese. And it was interesting because, to a person, and there were dozen that I served with, they really said they'd rather fight their own war. They didn't want us there. And, so, I began to see some of the problems with people who came back, and my ex-husband was one who really went off the deep-end and was post-traumatic stress disorder guy who probably is dead now, I don't know, I lost track of him. You know, we were in Hawaii and he was -the car backfired and he took me to the ground yelling "Incoming!" [Laughter] And he would have nightmares and night terrors and all kinds of things like that. So I didn't really realize how deeply I was being affected by all that and I became really -I'm a person who would have been -at the time I was supportive of the war because I was in the military, but looking back on it, you know, I'm -I don't think that we should have been there. I think that we just never... -big mistake, big mistake.

Steve Estes:

Okay. How did you first come to realize that you were gay?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Um, well I guess it was just a matter of almost like lifting a veil off of my mind. Starting maybe with the suggestion by my ex-husband that he thought I was a lesbian. And then, other people would make comments about that, and like I said, my last year at Stephen F. Austin, I met some gay and lesbian people and was kind of asking questions, no experience, you know, or anything; it was just a matter of realization. One thing that I kept trying to emphasize while I was pastoring was that, you know, there are gay people who know they're gay, who've never had a gay experience. There are straight people who have gay experiences, homosexual experiences, and so it's not about behavior, we're talking about an inner sense of being. So, uh, it was just like one day I looked in the mirror and thought "I am a lesbian" just like my ex-husband said. So, I talked to my parents about that. My Mother said, "Well, you'll have to find out about that, if that's true or not." And my Dad just thought, "No, of course not... blah, blah, blah... You're a perfectly normal.. .la-da-da..."... [Speaker uses nonsense word to mimic father] [Laughter] -and so I just went about finding out if that was true or not. But it was a matter of just a recognition, kind of in myself, that's who I am.

Steve Estes:

How did the Metropolitan Community Church affect that awakening?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Well, I'd already come to accept inside myself that I was lesbian, but I was having a real struggle with the whole gay and God issue, even while I was in the military. So, there was a woman in my office who was one of my underlings and I was her supervisor, and she asked leave of me one day to go over to Atlanta to go to church. And I kind of looked at her and I thought, "She certainly looks like a lesbian, I wonder where she's going to church?" SO I asked her to bring me a tape, so she brought me a tape back of the Reverend Troy Perry preaching, and so I'm going home and I put that in my little cassette player and I'm driving and here's Troy preaching away about how you can be gay and a Christian, and I almost wrecked the car. [Laughter] So the next day I came in, and I was [inaudible - hell bit for leather] you know, and I had this tape in my hand and I went over, and I'm waving it at Sergeant MacMillan, and I go, "Sgt. MacMillan, what kind of a church do you go to?!" and she flat out said, "It's a Christian Church with a primary outlet to gay men and lesbians." Well, we had the IBM (S?)electric type-writers then, and everybody was typing away, and there were thirteen women all in my office, not a man, but we were the Women's Army Corps you know, and it was like when E.F. Hutton speaks, it got quiet as a mouse in there [laughter], and there was this big pause and then I said, "Well, what about the Bible?" And she said, "Let me bring you some stuff." And so the next day, she was very courageous, I mean doing this right at work when she could have been tarred and feathered, kicked out of the service, and all kinds of stuff fro doing that, but, extremely courageous and uh, you know, she didn't ever say, "I'm a lesbian" because in the Metropolitan Community Church, because about twenty percent of the people are not gay or lesbian. So, she said, "I'll bring you some stuff." And she brought me a copy of Troy's book The Lord is My Shepherd, he knows I'm gay, and just before... -so I read this, and then I brought it back and laid it on her desk, she was supposed to come in that morning, a I got there a little bit early and I laid it on her desk, and when she came in, I said, "I brought that that book back" but it wasn't there, and it just, kind of surreptitiously went around the Women's Army Corps [laughter], and after about four, five or six months, one day it came back on the desk where it started.

Steve Estes:

Uh huh, a little impromptu book group. [Laughing]

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Yeah, that think was like wack-a-mole, you know, it was like here and there, and you could see it, and people would be hiding it, uh, it was amazing the number of lesbians who were there at that time! Or people who were at least interested in the Metropolitan Community Church. So, I asked Sgt. MacMillan to take me to this Atlanta church on the day that I was supposed to rotate out of Fort McLellan and go to recruiting duty in Dallas, and so she took me there and I just immediately felt that I was in the right place and that I was home, I had really been looking for a church. Cause my parents raised me to go to church and all of that. SO whenever I went to Texas I joined the Dallas church and then they started a satellite church over in Fort Worth and, so I lived between the two in Arlington, so I went over there to help them start that church. SO, I'm a charter member of the Agape MCC there in Fort Worth.

Steve Estes:

Could you talk a little bit about...-I assume you felt called to become a minister yourself? Could you talk a little bit about that?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Oh lord, from the time I was like four years old, I felt the call, and it was kind of funny because there was like a signature moment... -my cousin who lives here in Denver and I laugh about this time, because she remembers it vividly, I might have been about six at this time. Every time we would have dinner on the grounds, we had a country church that had the little graveyard and all that stuff, and it was outside of our little town in Bronte there, probably about a mile or two miles out of town, and uh, actually, near Fort Chadman, which is one of the old Indian forts, the cavalry forts, and so, um.. [Pause] I would round up all the kids when we'd have dinner on the grounds and, after we'd get done eating, the adults would be sitting around socializing and all that stuff, well I'd run em' into the sanctuary there and we'd all play church. [Laughter] And I got to be the preacher because I started the game. And I'd have to get an apple box to stand up there so that anybody could see me behind that pulpit, but I was behind that pulpit, and so, one day my grandmother came in and sat down and she's in the back of the church and heard all this, you know. And we usually had a kid that could play the piano and everything, so we did a good job of playing church, and at the end of that session when my grandmother had been sitting there, I marched over to her and said, "Grandmother, Jesus called me to preach." And she just laughed, and she said, "Jesus didn't call little girls to preach." [Laughter] So, I remember being kind of confused and angry and lots of stuff, because I was sure I was called to preach. But that was probably... -I explored some other things like becoming a missionary and a number of other things. But ultimately I didn't do anything except go into the army, and um, when I went to the MCC, they allowed women preachers, Troy was a Pentecostal, and even before some churches were allowing women ministers, like the Methodists or the Presbyterians, or any of those, the MCC was allowing women ministers, and I think they have over fifty percent of their ministers right now are women; which is the highest percentage in the Christian faith, I think.

Steve Estes:

Yeah, that doesn't surprise me.

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

And, uh, anyway, so some people in our church, "Really, we think you might be called." And it kind of revived that old yearning, you know, that I had from whenever I was a kid. SO I began very tentatively to look into that and ultimately that I was going to get out of the military and go to the seminary and become a MCC minister. And that's what happened.

Steve Estes:

When did you graduate from seminary?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Um, 1980.

Steve Estes:

And at this point you're in the reserves still.

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Yes. I left active duty, to go to seminary, and it took a year to find a seminary that would take an openly lesbian person.

Steve Estes:

Say the name of the seminary for the record.

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

The Illif School of Theology in Denver, Colorado. So I moved from Texas, where I was on the recruiting duty thing. I actually spent a year in the reserves down there in Texas, and it was a school unit; they trained people, and so that was a familiar place to be since I had done that at the WAC center. And then I left, and my partner and I at the time, we moved to Denver, and I spent three years at the Illif School of Theology and I graduated with a Masters of Divinity degree in 1980.

Steve Estes:

Was it hard to have a partner and be openly relatively gay in the reserves in the 70's?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Well, you know, I was in the Individual Ready Reserves, you've heard something about that around this Iraq War, cause they went into that... -what it is, is like a group of people that they keep in their hip pocket with critical skills that they can activate when they need those critical skills. So, I was in that, well little supervision, a real tentative relationship with the Army, so in reality there wasn't a lot going on to being openly gay. Plus there was a really "Don't ask, don't tell" under Nixon and Carter, both of them, and during the Vietnam War and the reason was because, you know, they wouldn't take you if you were gay and there were a lot of straight men saying they were gay to get out of the draft. [Chuckle] So if you said you were gay, they'd have to investigate. You had to like practically come in lipstick and high-heels, you know, to get out of the draft. SO, it was really a "Don't ask, don't tell" type of thing.

Steve Estes:

Right. So, the Army found out you were gay in 1983. Can you talk a little about that? Like how they did. I mean I've read about it, but I'd just like you to talk about it.

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Well I gave an interview to a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, and it was about the MCC and how people reconcile gay and God and all that. She asked me what I'd done before and I said, "Well I was in the Army and I'm still in the Reserves, and I'm about to promoted to Major" and I kind of trailed of, and then I said, "Maybe you'd better not print that." And in the article, this is the sentence, "She paused, frowned and said "Maybe you better not print that."" [Laughter]

Steve Estes:

So, so much for journalistic ethics.

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

You know, I was trying to say, "Hey, that remark right there was off the record." But I didn't know enough about reporters at that time, you know, -and why I don't think this woman had any clue that they were gonna up and toss me out. Well I didn't either. I just thought, "Well, it's probably something I probably shouldn't put in print" you know. So, when it came down the pipe, you know, -I suspect that there was a retired Sgt Major in Long Beach there, and they used to write right-wing letters to the editor in the Long Beach Press Telegram. So I kind of thought it might've been them. But somebody cut that article out and sent it to my Commander in St. Louis, Missouri, who I wouldn't know if I passed him on the street. And he felt like, you know, that he had to do something about it because, meantime, between Carter and Reagan, they had changed the rules and put in the most draconian rules that you've ever seen where you couldn't even think homosexual thoughts or they'd throw you out. You know, and in fact I had [inaudible] (parishioners?) who came to me who had thought homosexual thoughts homosexual thoughts or had homosexual dreams and they had thrown them out. And of course they had never had a homosexual encounter. And so, I thought to myself, "I'm taking this rule down, this is bull." You know you can't even dream about having sex with a man, which could be something symbolic, and they'd throw you out. But I wasn't aware that they had done that at the time, so when this information came to this Commander, he had to take action. So, that's what he did. He started an investigation on me for moral dereliction, and for the next three years... -I'm telling you it had to cost the tax payers a million dollars to investigate me, to find out if I was a lesbian, like I said I was in the paper. Now is that Army intelligence or what? [Laughter] The old oxymoron; military intelligence.

Steve Estes:

So you eventually got in touch with the ACLU and they helped you out. I was wondering how much of a help they were and what was the process there?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Oh wow. Well first of all, them being there insured that I would get an honorable discharge. The Army wasn't gonna to get real punitive as long as the ACLU was breathing down their necks. Now, they followed me around openly. They tapped the churches phones, they taped my home phone, and none of that did they do legally, but -I don't know if you've read Randy Shilts's book Conduct Unbecoming (?), he talks about how everybody who was investigated hears these people listening in; breathing, clicking, you know you hear all this stuff. And at one point they had a striped type of a motor-home sitting out front of the church with a man in uniform sitting there in the driver's seat, and I don't know who was in the back, you know the police-type listening unit, and whatever... you know, one of these days I'd love to see what they gathered, they probably destroyed it because it wasn't worth gathering, you know.

Steve Estes:

Right. [Laughter]

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

But it was intimidating and even for me, and even with the ACLU behind me, it was still enough to be unnerving; to have somebody following you around like that and go skiing with you and all kinds of stuff. So, anyway, ultimately, the process, the military process went through, and they discharged me. And so, I was out of the army. But the law suit went on. So they followed suit on my behalf.

Steve Estes:

And how much did you work with other folks who were challenging the ban? I know it started a long time, not a long time, but it started with Leonard Matlovich and then Ben-Shalom. How much did you know those folks or were influenced by them?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

I knew and had met Len Matlovich. I was pretty good acquaintances with Miriam Ben-Shalom, I thought she was... -we had her come to the church and speak, so periodically, we would have people who were involved... -like we had Perry Watkins come and speak at the church. So what that meant, was that I spent at least a weekend with Perry Watkins, with Miriam Ben-Shalom, Greta Cammermeyer, Keith Meinhold and so, a guy by the name of Joe Steffen, so over the time I met everybody and spent a little bit of time with them, and got to know them, so it was a really neat experience. My most favorite memory of the whole time we spent doing this, besides the win at the end, was the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, brought us all to... -during the Gulf War, brought us all to Carnegie Hall and honored us there. And it was wonderful, that was absolutely the most... I mean I stood on the stage at Carnegie Hall and it was full and there were a lot of people applauding. I thought that was absolutely wonderful.

Steve Estes:

So, take me through the... I mean it was hard, it was multi-year, legal battle, but could you briefly talk about what were some of the highs and lows and then how it ended up?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

The original federal judge that heard the case basically dismissed the case, typically dismissing the case saying, as had always happened, "The Army... -you've dropped your civil rights at the door. So this is the Army and we're not going to hear any challenge to gay civil rights in the Army." We were challenging them based on the fact that what I did was speak up and say I was gay, in a public forum, and that's political speech. So it was a First Amendment thing. And he dismissed it and said, "You don't have that kind of right. The Army's a horse of a different color. Civil rights are limited in the Military..." yada-yada-yada. And that was a very discouraging time whenever he dismissed it, but they appealed. At that time, Lambda Legal and ACLU, together, took the case and I think ultimately Lambda Legal became the lead organization for the case and ACLU was a secondary kind of backup. In the initial phases it was the other way around. So Lambda Legal took it to the appeals court, night circuit (?). And they ruled that gay men and lesbians could sue the Military. They said that we had a constitutional right to sue the Military, but that, and they actually put us in the constitutional hierarchy at the lowest level. The strict scrutiny is the race, gender, that kind of thing. But we were just at the level of any other citizen that would sue under their constitutional rights, but at least we were there. SO they sent my case back with that particular thing, saying that we could sue. And sent it back to the district court for another hearing. And the case that I got assigned, apparently I got a really right-winged judge [laughter], so uh, the strategist looked at that and they said, "Let's just not do anything with this." And, "Let's go on with some of these that, under this same rule, we might be able to win." And that's win Greta Cammermeyer case came to the forefront, as well as Keith Meinhold, and a guy by the name of Mel Dahl, and ultimately all of us were allowed to serve out our time, openly gay in the Military, and retire. Thus putting the lie to their thing, how bad it is for morale and all that. So, meantime, my case is just hanging there. Well, President Clinton came in, the whole brouhaha came around... -we were all serving in the military, all four of us, and there were some others that were challenging the Reagan Era doctrine, and Clinton was elected and the whole brouhaha about the "Don't ask, don't tell came up and the whole thing changed. Bye-bye went the Reagan Era rules, they were gone, now we have something that's probably even worse. [Laughter] Clinton was trying to help us, but ultimately made it even worse because, not only was it just an Executive Branch decision, now Congress got involved and actually passed a law, and "Don't ask, don't tell" is a law... and in order to get it overturned, and that means the Judicial Branch is going to have to go against both Legislative and Executive Branch unless we get a president whose got enough clout to get that overturned, and so any way, meantime here's these cases hanging over from the Reagan Era that are now moot and so they didn't want to litigate my case anymore, there's no reason to. What I was suing against was gone. So I ask my lawyer to approach them about a settlement, and she did, and they were willing to settle, so that's when I got the reinstatement, the promotion to major, and retirement.

Steve Estes:

Now, I guess, this is kind of a hard thing to ask, but were you happy with the settlement? I mean, did you feel satisfied that you had done what you had set out to do, however many years earlier?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

Well, Reagan Era doctrine is dead. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is better than that, but it's really a regression to what we were doing before Reagan came in, and I'm convinced that the Reagan Era rules came as a result of Leonard Matlovich almost winning. His lawyers were afraid to take it to the Supreme Court because they were afraid they would lose forever and ever. And really get a horrible decision that would not allow us ever again to challenge the gays in the military thing. So they didn't go to the Supreme Court, but it scared the conservatives enough to where they wrote those draconian rules in place, to where you couldn't dream about having sex with a man, or think gay thoughts or, you know, the reason I say that is because the word said something like "intend to have sex with"

Steve Estes:

Right, right.

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

I mean, what the heck is an intent? [Laughter] And how would they know if you intended to do something or not? You know, and who cares if you intended to or not if you didn't do it, you know.

Steve Estes:

That's not breaking the law, but by changing the policy it is. So, let me think...

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

So, that was gone, I mean this whole business of intending to.

Steve Estes:

Right, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is more about telling...

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

And they better not ask. And if gay servicemen today are, gay and lesbian service people are savvy, if somebody asks, they'll say, "You know you're not supposed to ask that" or "Why do you want to know?" you know, "What's it to you? Why you wanna know?" you know, this type of thing, "Are you interested?" [Laughter]

Steve Estes:

So I have just a couple more questions and one is a kind of summation question. If you could look back over your time in the Military and maybe your life, how do you think Military service affected you and affected your life?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

There were several things that I learned along the way with the Military. One was how to negotiate a bureaucracy, and that's a very useful tool. The first thing that I did whenever I got off active duty, I remained in the reserves, President Carter was giving amnesty to anybody who had gotten a less than honorable discharge simply for being gay. And I asked my parishioners, there were three hundred of them, if anyone had a less than honorable discharge would they like to, uh are you there? [Conversation about call waiting] I think I had twenty three or four that had received less than honorable discharge, and out of those twenty three or four, I believe we got eighteen that came back that had been upgraded to honorable. And so that was a matter of "how do you do this" and "What do you do?" and learning to negotiate the bureaucracy that benefited a whole slew of people just in that one little church. Plus, I put the word out to other churches and I think ultimately almost two hundred people in the MCC got their upgrades to their honorable, and that meant then that they got G.I. Bill and all the benefits and everything they had been denied by their less than honorable discharge. So that was great. The other thing was I got my education, the G.I. Bill. I already had my undergraduate degree and so with the GI Bill I got the Masters and ultimately the doctorate. So, I, I would still do that again. The army says they give you discipline, I don't know about that, but uh, you know I think that., -the other thing was, it was good to mix diversely. When I went in there was still a lot of leftover racial hostility and stuff in the military. There was racial polarization that came about as a result of Vietnam and also the civil rights movement of the 60's, both those things ran along two different tracks together, but crossed over, kind of like the railroad ties because so many of the draftees were African American. And you know, lower middle class, to lower class white, and so there lot's and lots of diversity and I was able to learn things from people from different cultures. You know, the Vietnamese were there, there were people who were Sikhs, we had some Sikhs, Sikh women. And all kinds of religion and cultures, everything kind of gets thrown together in a salad bowl that's the Army. And that was good for me as well.

Steve Estes:

And I guess the last, I have two more questions... -Is there anything that I didn't ask you about that you think is important? And now that I asked that I have one thing that I did want to ask you about. [Tape ends] One thing I had wanted to ask you about that I had forgotten is how it felt to be Advocate Woman of the Year in 1991?

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

That was a real surprise to me. I was looking at the... -they had the people of the year this year, of course were the mayors, the three mayors that performed the weddings or allowed the weddings, etcetera. But they had a big spread that showed all the people of the year, and I thought "Gosh, am I in really great company here, I'm humbled." And I was humbled by that. I'm just so grateful they chose me, sometimes I wonder what happened to Roman, I guess he's still in Russia doing his thing, I hope. But anyway, yeah, just humbled is a good word.

Steve Estes:

Okay. Well, than I think that's it in terms of the formal interview, and I should say for the record, thank you so much Dusty for talking to me.

Carolyn Dusty Pruitt:

No problem

Steve Estes:

And I'm going to turn off the tape.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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