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OutServe Magazine | August 9, 2014

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The OutHeroes Project: LT Jeff Petrie

In Honor of LT Jeff Petrie, USN
USNA ’89

By Tom Carpenter, Esq.

Long before West Point’s Knights Out or Air Force Academy’s Blue Alliance, Jeff Petrie founded USNA Out and fought for formal recognition of his group by the Naval Academy.

Achieving national status in gymnastics while growing up in Oregon, Jeff Petrie was recruited by many colleges during his senior year at South Eugene High School. At the urging of his grandfather, who had served as a Navy officer in WWII, Petrie chose to attend the Naval Academy. As a midshipman, he competed on the men’s varsity gymnastics team and was elected by his teammates to be Team Captain senior year. Petrie graduated in May 1989 with a B.S. in Economics.

As a newly-commissioned Ensign, Petrie’s first billet was Assistant Varsity Gymnastics Coach at Navy, a temporary position he held until December 1989. In January of 1990 he moved to Coronado, California, to attend Surface Warfare Officers School before reporting aboard USS KIRK (FF 1087) in Long Beach.

As a junior officer in charge of OC Division, he led 30 enlisted men in exercises ranging from submarine tracking and torpedo launchings to naval gunfire support for which he served as the Gunnery Officer. He had a natural knack for standing bridge watches and was the first of eight ensigns onboard to qualify as Officer of the Deck. While deployed to the Persian Gulf he took over the role of First Lieutenant, managing Deck Division and overseeing topside evolutions including flight operations, underway replenishments of fuel, cargo, and weapons, and the exterior maintenance of the ship. Petrie enjoyed being at sea and got along well with the other junior officers despite his always making excuses for not joining in the social activities of the officers’ mess. In those situations he would find himself forced to lie to his shipmates when responding to mundane conversational questions about where he spent the weekend and with whom; the book he was reading; or his favorite restaurant or television program. It hurt him to lie to people who trusted him completely.

No measure of success could make up for the Navy’s requirement that gay service members secretly do whatever they have to do to hide the truth of their identity. With no hope for change on the horizon, Lieutenant Petrie resigned his commission and left the Navy on his 26th birthday.

Now as a gay man and civilian, Jeff faced several challenging years. In 2000, he took a position working in the Membership Department of the Legion of Honor art museum in San Francisco. Living in the Bay Area inspired him to form USNAOut, the first-ever LGBT alumni group of any service academy.

On November 11, 2003, Veterans’ Day, Jeff and a contingent of other former naval officers who served with distinction presented the Director of Career Programs at the United States Naval Academy Alumni Association (USNAAA), a proposal to establish a gay alumni association chapter–USNA Out. By December 6 the Board of Trustees of USNAAA unanimously rejected the proposal because they contended the Association did not charter special interest chapters, only geographical chapters. This was in spite of the long-standing existence of an Recreational Vehicle Chapter.

Jeff was not deterred. A year later, again on Veterans’ Day, Jeff and his fellow LGBT alum, thinking they had remedied the objections of the Trustees, submitted a request to establish the Castro Chapter of the USNAA. In an interview Petrie stated, “Now that we’ve transformed ourselves into a chapter that meets the criteria, we get to put to the test the statement they made last year when they said our sexuality was never taken into consideration,” For a second year in a row, the Trustees unanimously voted to not recognize the Chapter. The reason given this time was that there already was a San Francisco Chapter and the board did not support a chapter within a chapter. Further, the chapter had not met the “critical mass” of 25 members.

In spite of his disappointment, there is no denying Petrie started a movement that has taken off. Since that time, LGBT alumni from the Air Force Academy and West Point have followed suit and started groups of their own, Knights Out and the Blue Alliance.

Stepping down from his position as leader of USNA Out in 2009, Petrie served as the 2010 Chairman of the Board for the Service Academy Gay and Lesbian Alumni Network while concurrently serving as a board member for USNA Out. He continues to serve as a board member for both organizations.

Jeff has led the way and has demonstrated courage and perseverance in the face great adversity. He is one of the unsung heroes of the continued fight for equality.