Openly Gay Pilot Leaving Navy After Harassment
A decade after the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy ended, one of Naval aviation’s handful of openly gay pilots is on his way out. The Marines substantiated his claims of harassment, after an incident following a West Coast Marine Corps Ball. It wasn’t enough to save his career.
For most of his six years in the Navy, Lt. Adam Adamski said he felt supported as an openly gay pilot. Adamski is a helicopter pilot for a Navy search-and-rescue squadron. The group works closely with the Marines. In November 2019, Adamski was invited to a West Coast Marine Corps Birthday Ball at Pala Casino Spa and Resort. He came back to the hotel room where the Marines had been holding an after-party.
“So, when I walked in the room, I knew something wasn’t right,” Adamski said. “The TV had been moved, like on a pivot to face the doorway. And I saw my dress whites draped over and around the TV and there was hard-core gay porn playing.”
It didn’t feel like a harmless prank. It felt like something else, he said.
Some of the other Marines in the squadron wanted to find those responsible, but Adamski said he was getting ready for his first deployment as a pilot, so he wanted to shrug the incident off, and let the matter go. But word of the incident spread quickly and Adamski started hearing from other service members.
“I received numerous calls from people that are in the closet, in that squadron,” he said. “Both men and women and openly gay service members. Telling me that they are upset. That the climate, especially for pilots, is not a good climate and they think that I should report it.”
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy ended a decade ago, allowing LGBT service members to serve openly. A study in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy found 59% of service members surveyed still don’t feel comfortable coming out to their peers. Sasha Buchert, a former Marine and attorney with the civil rights organization Lambda Legal, says changing the law didn’t change the culture.
“It’s one thing to have Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell removed,” she said. “It’s another thing to have a culture where people feel safe being who they are and not have to worry about being discriminated against. You know, a lot of this comes from the top down.”
Eighteen months after Adamski reported the incident, he still hasn’t received the final word on his case. His version of events has been substantiated by the squadron commander in charge of the three Marines found culpable and later triggered an inspector general's investigation. Initially, the squadron commander even offered to pull their pilot's wings for the incident. Adamski said he thought that was too severe.
“I want an in-person apology from all three of them," he said. "I want a meeting, in which they are there and I can talk to them.”
He also wanted something in their permanent record. Months went by, when the Marines didn’t comply, Adamski said he followed the advice of a Navy Judge Advocate General attorney and filed a complaint with the Navy Inspector General after the Marines told their commander they had made their apologies and repaid the hotel charges for the porn. The incident continued to eat at Adamski.
He was in a serious relationship with an Air Force pilot who was talking about coming out of the closet. They broke up after he saw Adamski’s experience.
“I lost a lot. I’m not happy. I no longer feel I’m an effective leader, an officer, a pilot," he said. "I don’t feel part of the military anymore. I feel segregated.”
Adamski has been called into the headquarters for Naval Air Command more than once to address his decision to speak publicly about his case. The Navy said it is up to the Marines to comment. Major Alex Lim, spokesman for 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, said the Marines initially acted quickly on the complaint.
“Marines, sailors, in our units are treated in a culture of dignity and respect," Kim said. "We want to prohibit any activity where these individuals would be harassed.”
Adamski stopped logging flight hours as the case dragged on. Last spring, he had a road accident that made it even tougher to qualify to fly. He was given the option — as a Navy officer — to retire and Adamski took it. In the next couple of months, his six-year career as a Navy pilot will end.
But not his quest for some kind of recognition that what happened to him wasn’t right.
“Most people back down because of all this hassle and I won’t,” Adamski said. “I’m not someone who will back down easily or ever. I’m not going to do it.”
At this point, he said, he has nothing left to lose.