Rob Smith was part of the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. Ten years later, the Army veteran wants to lead young gay men to better lives.
Smith, an openly gay Iraq war veteran, recently published his memoirs “Closets, Combat and Coming Out,” of his time served in the desert near Kirkuk and his inner battle with disclosing his sexuality. At the time of the war Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was still in effect and gays and lesbians were forced to hide their sexual orientation.
Smith was a specialist in the Army’s 4th Infantry Division.
“It was boots on the ground, balls to the wall, setting up shop,” Smith said. “The bases were not even there yet.”
Eleven years after the beginning of the Iraq War, Smith finds himself in an increasingly accepting environment as a writer in New York City, but it is a place he had to fight to get to.
In 2010, Smith was arrested, along with 12 other LGBT military veterans and civilian activists at the front gates of the White House while protesting DADT. One month later, Smith was the invited guest of President Obama for a ceremony repealing the discriminatory law.
His memoirs reveal painful descriptions of growing up in a small town, a botched coming out to his mother which caused suicidal thoughts and seeking military service to provide a better quality of life. Then came the war and along with it isolation and paranoia.
The book is “a riveting first-hand account of a shameful time in our recent history when courageous men like Smith were forced to serve their country in silence,” writes author Keith Boykin.
Smith was outspoken about the “double whammy” of being black and gay and what he sees as an “Adonis complex” among gay men.
“We’re not all underwear models,” he said. “I think sometimes we tend to glorify the wrong things and it can be damaging.”
Smith, 31, lives in New York City where he writes and contributes for numerous blogs and publications, chief among them being, Queerty.com. Living in NYC, he admits is “thrilling” and “frustrating.”
“I call it, ‘adult high school,’” he says about the NYC gay community. “There’s a lot of guys in their 20s and 30s who come here to pretend to be in high school again.”
With “Closets, Combat and Coming Out” Smith hopes to tour the country through speaking engagements in an effort to reach young gay men, a vulnerable segment of the population. He cites a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which showed HIV infection rates being highest among young gay and bisexual men ages 18-24.
“We need to start tackling some fundamental issues within the community,” Smith said. “HIV, drugs, smoking, unemployment … these are concerns that are so often swept under the rug in our community. How can we sell the dream without facing these realities?”