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Gay students graduate openly at U.S. military academies after repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'

BY BRIAN WITTE, ASSOCIATED PRESS

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Gay students at America's military service academies are wrapping up the first year when they no longer had to hide their sexual orientation, benefiting from the end of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that used to bar them from seemingly ordinary activities like taking their partners openly to graduation events.

For the first time, gay students at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis were able to take a same-sex date to the academy's Ring Dance for third-year midshipmen. The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., officially recognized a club for gay students this month. And gay cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., are relieved they no longer have to worry about revealing their sexuality.

Several gay students from the nation's major military academies said the September repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," an 18-year-old legal provision under which gays could serve as long as they didn't openly acknowledge their sexual orientation, meant significant change.

"For the most part, it allows us to be a complete person, as opposed to compartmentalizing our lives into different types of boxes," said newly commissioned Air Force 2nd Lt. Dan Dwyer, who graduated from the Air Force Academy on Wednesday. West Point held its graduation Saturday, and the Naval Academy's was set for Tuesday.

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