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Friday, May 2, 2014

Former Marine Reaches Out To Gay Friends

When Roger Huffstetler found out two of his old friends were engaged to be married to other men, he started wondering "could I have been a better friend to these two guys?" (Robin Young/Here & Now)

When Roger Huffstetler found out two of his old friends were engaged to be married to other men, he started wondering “could I have been a better friend to these two guys?” (Robin Young/Here & Now)

When Roger Huffstetler served in the Marines, he slept next to Sgt. Terry Santiago. Huffstetler didn’t know Santiago was gay until they came home from Afghanistan.

Huffstetler also had a childhood friend named Andy Lane. He also didn’t know Lane was gay until many years later.

When he found out that both men were engaged to be married to other men, Huffstetler started wondering “could I have been a better friend to these two guys?” So he set out to make amends with Lane and Santiago.

All three men speak to Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Guests

  • Roger Dean Huffstetler, former Marine Corps sergeant.
  • Andrew Lane, grew up in Newnan, Georgia, with Roger Huffstetler.
  • Terry Santiago, served as a Marine Corps sergeant with Roger Huffstetler.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW, and here's a headline-grabber: I slept with a gay man for six months in Afghanistan. No one asked. He did not tell. Well, that's the way a recent essay in the Washington Post begins. But what the writer meant was, he was bunking in a small tent on the other side of a plywood partition in combat in Afghanistan with someone he did not know was gay because no one talked about it.

Former Marine Roger Dean Huffstetler wrote that article. He was talking about his friend, Sgt. t Terry Santiago. Roger also had a childhood friend in Noonan, Ga. - Andy Lane - who was gay. But Roger didn't find out about that for 20 years. In his essay, he asks, in effect, what's up with that? These were my friends. Why didn't I know? And why haven't I been more supportive of their gay rights? Why was I OK with just civil unions and not gay marriage?

And so Roger, a Southern Baptist, set out to apologize to both men. Let's hear their story now. Roger Dean Huffstetler joins us in the studio. Welcome.

ROGER DEAN HUFFSTETLER: Thank you for having me.

YOUNG: And Andy and Terry are at the studios of NPR in New York. Andy Lane, are you there?

ANDREW LANE: I'm here.

YOUNG: And Roger's comrade in Afghanistan, Terry Santiago, are you there?

TERRY SANTIAGO: Yes, I am.

YOUNG: Well, welcome to you both. And I guess congratulations also because we understand Roger found out that you were both gay when he read on Facebook you were getting married to other men. So congratulations to you both.

LANE: Thank you.

SANTIAGO: Thank you.

YOUNG: What would we do without Facebook? So...

(LAUGHTER)

YOUNG: Well Roger, one was your comrade in arms, the other a comrade in childhood. What's your thinking? Were you, like, what?

HUFFSTETLER: Well, I think it's just that. I saw on Facebook one day that Sgt. Santiago was engaged to a man, and I said, well, my goodness, he slept arms-length away, and I didn't know this about him. What does that mean about me? And then I found out the same thing about Andy and just thought to myself, well, my goodness, Andy was in the Noonan choir with me. And it just got me thinking about things and made me realize that maybe I need to rethink my position on this issue, maybe I need to rethink these things, and...

YOUNG: Well, let's hold up there because you started to think, what did I say in front of, at least, Terry? - who you'd seen most recently.

HUFFSTETLER: That's correct.

YOUNG: But you're not a gay basher.

HUFFSTETLER: No, I'm not. To my knowledge, I've never intentionally done anything to hurt anyone's feelings or make them feel different. But I wanted to sort of think about that. You know, what have I done, and is having this position of civil unions a tenable position? If not, why not?

YOUNG: Yeah because previously, you'd thought a civil union, that's fine, and now you're thinking, well, wait a minute, these are my friends. I'm wondering, too, if there's a little bit of heartache 'cause you're kind of a little bit outside of their life.

HUFFSTETLER: Yeah, I think that's right, and you realize that you weren't able to get to know them well enough to maybe know that part of their life a little bit more. It makes you wonder, well, maybe I wasn't as good a friend as I thought I was. Maybe there are things about the way I'm viewing the world that doesn't make me as open as I tell myself I am.

YOUNG: Yeah, maybe they couldn't trust you as a friend. Well, let's ask. Terry, of course this is during don't ask, don't tell. But still, tell us from your end, Roger's asking maybe I wasn't the kind of person somebody would approach. What was your view?

SANTIAGO: Well, I mean, I think with me at least, even with the people that I came out to that - later on in the military, it wasn't really about that I didn't trust them, it was just this fear of losing your job. I was still in the military, and it was under don't ask, don't tell, so you're under this idea that you have to keep it secret, and you can't really express it, and it tumbles over into I guess your private life.

So it wasn't really, you know, that I didn't trust him. It's just you have this fear.

YOUNG: Well Roger, you decide to go on this road trip to make amends to your friends.

HUFFSTETLER: I just said to my wife Emily, it's really important for me to go see these two men. And to be honest, I had no idea what I was going to say. I just knew that I needed to go and say I'm sorry if I wasn't a good enough friend for you at the time, but, you know, I want to change that now. I just want to make sure that I'm doing everything I can to make sure I'm on the right side of history.

YOUNG: So let's start with you, Andy. Your childhood friend Roger knocks on the door and what?

(LAUGHTER)

LANE: I thought that Roger just wanted to get together and catch up. So we met for breakfast, and, you know, we starting catching up and telling each other about our lives and our partners. And so Roger, you know, told me about his story and about his process of coming out as a straight man in support of gay marriage. And Roger told me that, you know, my coming out and Terry's coming out actually influenced him in that process.

YOUNG: In the writing, I mean this - Roger, this sounds kind of emotional for you.

HUFFSTETLER: It was very emotional. I remember being teary-eyed when I talked to Terry and Andy. I think, you know, it just dawns on you, like these people, they were just not allowed to be themselves, and I was part of that. I think it affected me.

YOUNG: You had a sense of yourself, a notion about yourself. You write that during the civil rights era, you're from the South, that you would have been the one out marching with the blacks as they faced dogs and fire hoses. You'd like to think you would have been the one out there, and then you thought what?

HUFFSTETLER: Well, that wasn't true, and we know that's not true because...

YOUNG: In this modern battle.

HUFFSTETLER: In this modern battle because we know that right now people are being denied certain rights because of who they are. And I just don't think that's fair. I don't think that's in keeping with the principles that the country was founded upon.

YOUNG: Hey Andy, what was it like for you to be receiving this?

LANE: It was a little bit surprising for me to hear Roger tell me all of this. I thought it was wonderful to hear, you know, his thoughts and to hear about his, you know, his own account and his own process of, you know, coming to realize that gay men and lesbians, as separate but equal, is not being on the right side of history.

But I did feel a little bit like, you know, Roger, it's OK. You know, there are a lot of people who I didn't tell that I was gay when I was growing up.

YOUNG: Roger, does that make you feel better that it wasn't personal, or does that make you feel worse, that he couldn't trust anyone, to tell anyone?

HUFFSTETLER: It definitely - you know, their feedback made me feel better, but I think it misses the point a little bit. I appreciated that they can't single out an event or something that I did, but the fact that I was silent before, that means I'm not doing everything I can to make sure it's OK they can be themselves.

YOUNG: Terry Santiago, I'm wondering, as you listen, do you have any thoughts now of, wow, when we were separated by that piece of plywood in that tight space in Afghanistan, it would have been nice to have had some of these conversations?

SANTIAGO: It would have been amazing to have someone there that, you know, I could talk to and express myself to and, you know, get the things out that I'd been holding in.

YOUNG: Well, and it sounds like everybody here is saying that, Roger you, as well. And you have a message going forward to people, especially in the military. What is that?

HUFFSTETLER: Well, I just think it's pretty simple. Silence can be a powerful consent. And, you know, maybe if you find out someone that you knew in your past was gay, but you didn't know it, well, maybe you can just say to them, hey, you know, I'm sorry, maybe I could've been there to support you a little bit more. Find the Sergeant Santiagos and Andys in your life and make amends. There's still time to be on the right side of history.

YOUNG: What has been the reaction to your piece in the Washington Post?

HUFFSTETLER: Overall I think the response has been very positive. You know, my mom asked me to read about it and pray about it, and I did those things, and I came to a conclusion that maybe she's not happy with, but I was very happy to try to do the things she asked me to do. And some other folks who I know who had been in the Mormon Church, who had separated from that church because of this issue in particular, they were supportive.

I had a number of people from our hometown in Noonan who got in touch with me. The Noonan Times Herald printed the article, which I was very proud of. And most of - you know, a lot of positive response from classmates. I haven't spoken to my grandmother about it; I doubt that we will, to be honest.

(LAUGHTER)

HUFFSTETLER: But - love her, too, (unintelligible). You know, I'm not a Baptist basher. I was raised in the Baptist Church, and a lot of folks there were very kind to me and gave me a scholarship to go to undergraduate. So I think we're probably going to disagree on this issue, but I think at the end of the day, I want to do my part to make sure we're speaking out about what is blatant discrimination in treating people differently because of who they are.

YOUNG: Roger, thanks so much.

HUFFSTETLER: Thanks.

YOUNG: Again, former Marine Roger Dean Huffstetler. We also spoke with his friends Andrew Lane, Sergeant Terry Santiago. Thanks to them, as well. And you could read Roger's essay about their friendship at hereandnow.org. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Rick

    Another pro-gay marriage story…

    SHOCKING!

    • Bobbaay

      Have one to offer in the opposing vein that isn’t hate filled and based on 2,000 year old regurgitated platitudes that have no bearing on modern society? No? Didn’t think so. Take a seat.

      • Rick

        How about considering that until very recent history, no civilization in the history of the world has allowed same sex marriage. That crosses all cultural, religious, and racial boundaries. Gay couples who do get married have a much higher divorce rate. They cannot naturally reproduce. A man cannot be a mother and a woman cannot be a father.

        THERE. .. TAKE A SEAT!

        • Steven Jaeger

          Gotta bang you on the head for that comment. It’s a no go. How can gays have a higher divorce rate when they can’t get married?????? And they can both be fathers or both be mothers. No different than a child have two fathers, genetic and step, etc. All the studies have shown that kids of gay families are more open and less discriminatory and generally as well adjusted or better than average heterosexual families. Don’t quote the Regenerus study because it’s not about gay families besides it’s other other flaws.

        • Jeffrey York

          A divorce rate higher than opposite sex couples? Stats please. I doubt it.

        • Al Lucard

          You might want to hold off on that judgement, and actually look into history. *MANY* civilizations in history not only “allowed” same-sex unions, but some even celebrated them.

          Though I hate posting an “anti-gay” stance to support my argument, even the Catholics acknowledge the existence of gay marriage in ancient cultures.

          http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/1367/gay_marriagenothing_new_under_the_sun.aspx

          You might also want to look into the “Two Spirit” peoples of the Native American tribes…

          And one final point.. The early Catholic Church actually performed *gasp* gay marriages:

          http://rense.com/general50/cath.htm

          So, yeah, you may want to research the history you so erroneously wrote about. – kthxbai

        • Chris

          Until recent history, slavery was a norm in society, and had been practiced for thousands of years. Maybe even from the dawn of human history, until the 1800s/1900s. The thought that women were inferior to men was also a common thought until recently. The longevity of injustice doesn’t make it any less of an injustice. However, those points would be a necessary counter-argument were your claims that no civilization throughout history allowed same-sex unions. Which is untrue.

          No, actually all studies show that same-sex couples marriages are either just as stable and long-lasting as straight couples, or in some cases, even longer lasting. Try again.

          Lastly, a man doesn’t need to be a mother, and a woman doesn’t need to be a father. As that isn’t necessary to raise a healthy and happy child. A two-parent household is. Of any gender.

  • knudson

    Former Marine, thats the KEY words here.

  • Tonyhaze2016

    lets live our life with permission nor apology

  • Tonyhaze2016

    Roger Huffstetler is a good friend…gota love him

  • Vitabuono

    What a great guy and a great human being. Imagine if more people in the world treated others in this same way. This guy is going to heaven. I have no doubt in my mind. Good on you Roger. Good on you.

  • Mercy Brown

    I’m Mercy brown by name I have a few testimony to share with you all about myself, I was in a relationship with this guy and for 3years and we were about getting married when we both have misunderstanding with each other and he ask me for a divorce and we both agreed and after 4months I head that he was having an affair with one of my closest friend and I was very upset and worried so a friend of my advice me and told me if I still love my ex and if I really want to have him back so I told her yes, and she ask me to contact Dr. Madurai the spell caster and I did although I never believe on spell so he gave me something when he was casting the spell and ask me to say my wishes on it and after the casting of the spell a receive a phone call from my ex and was ask me at which I did and now we are back together again I’m so happy and I wish not to ever have this mistake again in my life. I will also advice anyone with this kind of issue to contact him for help he is really nice on phone and always there to answer you question giving you the good advice that you need. his email is maduraitemple@yahoo.com..

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