Steven Vossler’s family has a tradition of service in the Army extending back to the Spanish-American War, and he enlisted in the United States Army in November 2000, before graduating high school. After basic training, the Army sent him to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, because of his exceptional aptitude for foreign languages. He described the close friendships he developed with other students at the Language Institute, how in general it is important to have “good, open relationships” and to discuss one’s personal experiences and life with one’s colleagues in the military, and how, if one does not, it is perceived as an attempt to distance one’s self.
Vossler met Jerrod Chaplowski, another soldier and Korean language student, at the Monterey Language Institute, and became friends with him. Eventually he heard a rumor that Chaplowski was gay. Vossler testified that he was initially surprised at this, because “up until that point, [he] still held some very stereotyping beliefs about gays and lesbians,” but also testified that as a heterosexual he had no difficulty sharing living quarters with Chaplowski at any of the several Army bases where they were quartered together; in fact, Chaplowski was a considerate roommate and it was always a “great living situation.”
The difficulty Vossler did encounter, he testified, was that when he and Chaplowski were with other servicemembers and the conversation turned to general subjects, he had to be excessively cautious lest he inadvertently cast suspicion on Chaplowski and trigger an investigation under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act. For example, if a group of soldiers was discussing their respective social activities over the previous weekend, Vossler had to refer to Chaplowski’s dinner companion as “Stephanie” rather than “Steven;” even this small deception pained Vossler as it violated the Army’s code of honor. Vossler also testified that he observed that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act infringed Chaplowski’s ability or willingness to enforce the Army’s policy banning offensive and discriminatory language. Homophobic slurs, epithets, and “humor” were commonplace and made Vossler uncomfortable; he noticed that Chaplowski did not confront those who employed them, although Vossler eventually did at times.
Vossler chose not to reenlist in the active duty Army after his tour of service expired, instead enlisting in the Army National Guard, which he left in June 2009. After leaving the military, Vossler became a vocal advocate for the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act because he believes the Act “doesn’t seem in line with American values” and he “do[es]n’t understand how it’s a law in [this] country” because he perceives the Act to be discriminatory.
The Court found Vossler, in common with the other former military men and women who testified at trial, a credible, candid, and compelling witness.