Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

OutServe Magazine | June 27, 2015

Scroll to top


Power Players – A Pentagon Civilian

Power Players – A Pentagon Civilian

Out in the Pentagon–For 24 Years an Air Force Civilian Recalls Subtle Turning Points, Provides Advice to New Generation

By David Small

1989. Lou Timmons’ former partner, Dallas Mulske, had just died of AIDS after two years of working together—neither of them overtly out of the closet—in the Secretary of the Air Force’s Office of Public Affairs at the Pentagon.

“Everybody knew we were gay and that Dallas died of AIDS, but nobody talked about it. After he died, it was intolerable to not be myself. I got my ear pierced. That was my way of coming out,” said Timmons. “And I don’t remember, then, anybody saying anything about the earring. Or me.”

Timmons, originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., has worked in the Pentagon since 1987, where he has seen attitudes toward gays and lesbians from the most senior ranks in the Department of Defense adjust over time, and the concept of gays serving in the military slowly emerge and become accepted into mainstream society.

“I don’t envy the 19-year-old Marine thinking about putting a picture of his boyfriend on his bedpost in the barracks,” said Timmons. “But somebody has to be first.”

His advice for that 19-year-old: “Being yourself is the way to go. It worked for me.”

Timmons looks at the younger serving gays and lesbians in the military today as a transition generation. From his desk at the Pentagon, he has witnessed the transition to a world where lesbians and gays can finally serve openly.

“By the time our children are our age, nobody will think twice about gays in the military,” he said. Timmons sat down with OutServe Magazine and shared pointed moments from his memory as he watched the military slowly come to accept homosexuals in the ranks.

1979. One year after coming out to himself and working at the Patent and Trade Office, Timmons attended a small protest rally held by the recently deceased gay-rights activist, Dr. Franklin Kameny, in front of the newly built J. Edgar Hoover FBI headquarters building. The FBI had fired a clerk for being gay.

“Back then, and in some sectors still today, you could be fired for just being gay. I stood on the sidelines listening to Dr. Kameny. I just observed.” Timmons told this story to illustrate the trepidation at the time for gays at work. “People were just not out back then,” he said.

1984. Dallas Mulske got a promotion out of his job working for the Air Force chief of bands, Lt Col Ray Toler, and supporting five other men as a male secretary. Mulske was somewhat effeminate, but extraordinarily efficient and effective as a secretary, Timmons said. “He was adored by everybody.”

Colonel Toler asked Mulske if he had ‘a friend’ who would want his old job. Timmons interviewed and was offered the position.

“Although nobody ever talked about it back then, it was clear they were more than comfortable with a homosexual in the position,” he said. “That’s how I came to the Pentagon. I wasn’t out, loud and proud then. I was circumspect. Nobody knew Dallas and I had a relationship.”

In his first year in the Pentagon, Timmons, in his early 30s, felt it surreal to be gay and working around the military, but he never had any negative experiences he couldn’t deal with. “I envisioned everybody in the military as arch-conservative, homophobic Christians. I was prejudging them. And that’s what we complain about, people prejudging us! I never saw any of that on a personal level.”

People respected his work as a secretary. At the time, he primarily worked with Air Force musicians. “They were a different breed, so nobody asked leading questions,” he said, thinking that his unique situation helped ease his way into the military world. He was also widely respected by his coworkers for his dedication at work.

Only a year later, tragedy struck. Mulske, at age 28, got sick.

“Does Dallas have AIDS?” Colonel Toler asked. “‘I’m not allowed to talk about it,’ I told him. Toler shook his head knowingly and said, thank you.”

Brig Gen Michael P. McRaney, then the Air Force Director of Public Affairs, asked Timmons about the funeral arrangements. At Mulske’s funeral, hundreds of people showed up in service dress with wheel caps.

“There was a sea of blue uniforms in the church,” Timmons said, describing the scene at the Seventh-Day Adventist church in Tacoma Park, Md., “It made me very proud Dallas’ mother and father would see how fondly the people Dallas worked with thought of him.”

After the funeral, Timmons became increasingly frustrated with being in the closet. “It was only 20 years ago, but nobody talked about it,” he said. “Public affairs may generally be less conservative than other parts of the military, but we were still in the Pentagon!”

After Timmons showed up for work with his earring, he became more comfortable.

“When the Xerox repairman would walk by and the gals would ogle, I joined them,” he said. “I started behaving like anybody else would. I was never crude. I never made any pronouncements. I just began behaving naturally.”

In the 80s, Timmons, left and Dallas, second from the right, at the Pentagon

1991. Then something changed. Closeted military people, sometimes high ranking, started to admit their homosexuality to Timmons. At times, he was their only solace in difficult situations. Timmons had built a professional reputation as somebody who could get things done. Now that he was out, that quality reputation carried over to people’s needs to vent about their hidden sexuality.

“I didn’t have some big gay rights poster on my desk, but by then, I had stopped censoring myself and people came to me.”

1992. Timmons became bolder in his personal advocacy toward mainstream gay acceptance as the nation’s conversation began to focus on gays in the military in the run-up to President Bill Clinton’s election.

One day, he noticed a sports page that a young captain had displayed on his desk of his losing team with the words “Your team was just semi homosexual” emblazoned on it by somebody else as a joke—the team apparently had played a less than honorable game.

“This is offensive and insulting,” Timmons instructed the captain. “You need to understand, you can’t use gay epithets disparagingly.” Both captains involved apologized.

“I felt really good after that,” he said. “That was the only time I ever had to correct somebody’s behavior and educate them on propriety.”

1993. Just prior to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” implementation, Timmons attended a retirement party for an Air Force Reserve colonel who was a lesbian. Her partner of decades flew in for the ceremony, which took place in the Secretary of the Air Force’s conference room.

“Her partner was just standing in the crowd and was only acknowledged as a friend from out of town,” Timmons noted. “My heart broke for her. They had been together forever.”

Shortly afterward, Timmons was heartbroken again as the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise was announced.

“I was so excited to see what would be announced July 15 that I even put it in my bio of the program for the play I was stage managing at the time. But when they announced it, I was very sad for my people.”

Training session at the Pentagon for Senior NCOs, which included a Pentagon tour with Mr. Lou Timmons - courtesy of

1997. Timmons made a career change. Promoted out of the secretarial pool, he found himself a certified public affairs officer and official media spokesman for the Air Force. Only once during his tenure on the press desk did he ever have to deal with a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” issue.

The pilot’s name was Capt Craig Button. He inexplicably departed formation in his A-10 Thunderbolt II, loaded with munitions, and flew into an Arizona mountain range during a training mission. Officially, the Air Force deemed the incident a suicide. Media reports claimed mental turmoil over unrequited love for a former girlfriend. But the rumor mill generated gay overtones to the story that the unrequited love may have been a man. Timmons, who also dealt with the inquiries surrounding suspected homosexuality, was the press desk officer for the entire incident.

“I remember having to talk to the Washington Blade [a gay newspaper] about it,” said Timmons. “I don’t know if Capt Button was gay, but it’s very sad to think of the unrecognized deaths that terrible policy probably caused.”

2004. Nearly 10 years later, things had drastically changed in society, but meeting gays in the military was still a new experience for Timmons. It just didn’t happen for him. While he was out at work, his gay social outlets were through local theater.

The ‘ah-hah’ moment for Timmons was his introduction to the underground network of gays serving in the Washington metro area at a house party he attended at the invitation of a captain who had come out to him. That group, the “P-MOs” (for Pentagon homosexuals) has grown to a list of over 200 people today, and is unofficially administered by a Navy captain. They gather for weekly coffees and happy hours in and around the Pentagon.

“There was this vivid moment for me—like when the film Wizard of Oz changes to color as Dorothy opens the door—when I walked into the party and saw an officer I worked with, a personal staffer to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. I was in shock,” Timmons described. “That was the first time I had seen somebody I knew at work, out in a gay setting, and I learned there was this whole underground, word-of-mouth network for gays in the military.”

In his mind, Timmons related the 30 gay military men socializing at the party to what it had been like in the 1950s when there weren’t outlets for gays to be social and people relied on private parties to be who they were.

“I thought to myself of 1952, all these guys would be doing their jobs on Wall Street and the next night they’d be in somebody’s apartment at a dinner party, like my favorite play, The Boys in the Band,” Timmons said.

2011. With gays now able to serve openly, Timmons recognizes the general acceptance of everybody around him with who he is.

“I don’t know if it’s because I’m an older gay guy, or that times have just changed that much,” he said. “My next-door neighbor, a very conservative, retired Army veteran and I are great friends. I’m his first gay friend. It’s about getting to know people, not whatever label is put on them by society. People like me because I’m smart, funny and good at my job. Even in the Pentagon for 24 years, it’s never been an issue that I’m gay. Just being myself, though, has done wonders.”