Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement
by Stephen Snyder-Hill, foreword by George Takei
c.2014, Potomac Books; $22.95; 198 pages
The phone call began another very long day.
It arrived approximately ten seconds after you walked to your desk, the first of that kind of interruption, followed by dozens of urgent (to the sender) emails and six cubicle drop-bys. Alas, you didn’t get much done that day.
Sometimes, you just want to be left alone to do your work and live your life. Other times, as in the new book Soldier of Change by Stephen Snyder-Hill, you need to stand up and speak out.
Growing up in small-town Ohio, Stephen Snyder-Hill says he’d always felt “this darkness I couldn’t understand.” His mother also noticed it, but he couldn’t explain to her that he loathed himself.
“When people say that being gay is a choice,” he says, “I always remember trying to unchoose it.” That didn’t work, though he spent his teen years trying to be like other guys, trying to work through the shame he felt.
Nearing graduation, he started thinking about joining the military; he came from a long line of soldiers and enlisting seemed like a good way to pay for college. He was first stationed in Germany, then went to Iraq as a “fire support specialist.” That was where he started journaling and where, following a friendly-fire near-miss, he decided that he was “going to finally start living my life for myself.”
That included embracing his sexuality.
After leaving the army, Snyder-Hill began the slow process of coming out and he started “feeling like maybe…my purpose on this earth was to be exactly who I am.” He graduated from college and, realizing that he missed the military, he reupped—just before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” went into “full effect….”
Knowing that the military would, in essence, force him to become a “professional liar,” Snyder-Hill kept quiet about his sexuality. He endured indirect taunts from fellow soldiers and he learned to hide his love of and marriage to another man. Finally, fed up and coincidentally presented with a chance to ask a question of the 2012 Republican candidates in a national debate, he crafted a query he thought might change things.
And, he says, “I hit send.”
I liked Soldier of Change, but not just because of what author Stephen Snyder-Hill says. I liked the way he says it.
Reading this book is kind of like having a beer with a buddy. It’s chatty rather than stuffy with a bit of brevity sprinkled here and there, yet Snyder-Hill’s outrage comes through loud and clear as he takes his story further, writing about life as a gay man during DADT days, his activism, and the work he’s done on behalf of gay and lesbian soldiers. This book is genuine, and I liked that, too.
I think this is an important story to read if you need to know where LGBT rights have been and who’s brought them forward. It’s also one to enjoy if you want an informal, easy-to-like memoir. Even in this post-DADT time, Soldier of Change is a book worth reading.