Lavender Magazine's First Military Recruitment Ad

It has been over a decade since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. The policy was issued under President Clinton in 1993, prohibiting openly gay, lesbian and bisexual recruits from serving in the military.

A 2018 issue of Lavender Magazine contained the first national guard recruitment ad to be printed in a publication for the LGBTQ+ community.

MPR News Host Cathy Wurzer talked with Lavender CEO Stephen Rocheford and Major General Shawn Manke of the Minnesota National Guard about the ad and its impact.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: It's been more than a decade since a policy dubbed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed. The policy was issued under President Clinton back in 1993. It had prohibited openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual recruits from serving in the US military.

Our next two guests are here to talk about another LGBTQ military milestone that took place right here in Minnesota not that long ago. Stephen Rocheford is the President and CEO of Lavender magazine, one of the largest locally produced LGBTQ+ publications in the country. Also with us, Major General Shawn Manke is the Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard. Welcome, General Manke and Mr. Rocheford. How are you both?

STEPHEN ROCHEFORD: I'm doing fine. Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you. I appreciate both of you joining us here. Say, I'm going to start with Mr. Rocheford. It's fairly recent history. It might not sound as though putting National Guard recruitment ads in an LGBTQ publication was groundbreaking, but it was. So, Stephen, what was your pitch to the Guard to place those ads?

STEPHEN ROCHEFORD: Well, the first thing happened-- I'm a veteran, and I started noticing an vastly inordinate number of gay veterans in the community, people everywhere, on softball teams, everything. So I commissioned a media audit company to statistically announce that in their next surveys. And it came up that in the state of Minnesota, normally people are 12 and 1/2% either are veterans or in their immediate family has a veteran. But in the gay community, it's 23.7%, which is almost exactly double. So it was just I was right on that there was something disproportionate statistically, and that started the ball rolling.

CATHY WURZER: OK. Now placing a military recruitment ad in an LGBTQ publication during "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" obviously wouldn't have been possible. General Manke, I'm wondering how was it received in 2018 within the Minnesota military community?

SHAWN MANKE: Well, in 2018, we entered this partnership with Lavender magazine, and it was really our opportunity, an opportunity for us as we continue to push to diversify our force. With less than 1% of Americans serving in the military now, we continually look for ways to increase our marketing strategies as far as getting people that want to serve.

And so we marketed in Lavender magazine because we're really looking for people who both physically meet the requirements to serve in the military and have the aptitude scores so that we can enlist them in the Minnesota National Guard. And we just saw Lavender as another opportunity to partner to cast a bigger net to reach more of an audience so that we'd have more members eligible to serve.

CATHY WURZER: General, did the Guard have a sense if the ads were working? Do they continue to work?

SHAWN MANKE: I would say we don't-- that's a question that we don't ask when people come into the Guard, what is your sexual preference. And we don't measure that. But I would tell you that we are seeing more and more of our service members be open about their sexual preference.

And we hope that this helps us with more inclusivity so people are willing to serve, and they tell their friends, hey, it's a great organization. You should be part of it. And Lavender helps us with that message and marketing campaign.

CATHY WURZER: So, Stephen Rocheford, you mentioned that you served in the military. If I recall correctly, you were an officer in the regular Army from, I believe, what, 1975 to 1987, if I have those dates right. And we should say to folks-- didn't you talk to a member of the regular Army back in 2012 because much of the groundwork was done years prior to these ads being run in Lavender, right?

STEPHEN ROCHEFORD: Yes. I had noticed these numbers and so forth, and I started my campaign. I approached an officer who was a recruiting commander for the federal Army. And I got to him and talked to him and convinced him that it was something that should start. And we talked.

And it was after President Obama was re-elected, so he was a lame duck president and didn't have any bad PR he could suffer. And it started the process, but it didn't work. And somewhere along the line in the regular Army, it didn't pan out. So I rethought the strategy over, and that's when I got some more updated statistics. I thought it through, and then I started approaching the National Guard.

CATHY WURZER: Because of your background in the Army, Stephen, I'm curious, what was it like for gays in the military at that time? What was it like for you as a gay officer?

STEPHEN ROCHEFORD: Oh, good heavens, it was you're in the closet. And I can tell you that nobody talked about it at all. I was even shocked once when a senior officer came up to me in Germany and made a comment to me. And he said he had selected me for a position, and I actually didn't want it. I wanted to stay with my tanks and troops. And he put me on a staff position as his adjutant.

And then I tried to get out of it. And he said, I don't care if you're gay. You're the best officer in my regiment. So I got-- that caught me totally by surprise. And that was in, I think, 1978.

So, I mean, I didn't acknowledge anything at that time. So it was you were always on guard. And I've talked to other soldiers even recently, and they said it was just always you're afraid all the time, and you don't want to say anything or let people know that you're gay.

CATHY WURZER: Much has changed, obviously. General Manke, I understand that the National Guard-- the Minnesota National Guard has something called a Special Emphasis Council-- or Councils to promote inclusion. Can you tell us about that?

SHAWN MANKE: Absolutely, Cathy. We have a Special Emphasis Councils, African American Heritage, American-Indian/Native American Heritage, Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage, Disability, Employment Awareness, Hispanic Latino American Heritage, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and LGBTQ+, and then finally, Women's Council.

And really, we use these Special Emphasis Councils to help mentor and champion diversity in the Minnesota National Guard as well as use these councils to participate in community activities or community festivals from a selfish standpoint to market the Guard, but also to give back to the communities and inform the public that while the Minnesota National Guard is a service organization, there's a lot of benefits, and you get a lot of leadership skills and whatnot from serving in the Minnesota National Guard. And these councils help us promote the diversity and really also help us with our community outreach and recruitment.

CATHY WURZER: Now this whole conversation started when we were talking about the groundbreaking ads in Lavender magazine. So does the relationship between Lavender and the Minnesota National Guard continue?

SHAWN MANKE: It does. And we advertise in Lavender magazine quarterly, probably. And we partner with Lavender magazine. And Lavender magazine graciously helps us amplify some of our service members' accomplishments and communicate those to the readers of Lavender. And we benefit from the partnership that we have with this magazine, and Stephen, of course.

CATHY WURZER: I'm going to put Stephen on the spot here because I understand you received an award in 2022, the Minnesota Superior Civilian Service Award. Is that like the Legion of Merit?

STEPHEN ROCHEFORD: Yes. I had never heard of it before, to be honest. And General Manke presented it to me, and I was really taken aback and surprised. And I was told it was the equivalent of the Legion of Merit, which is an extremely high award that's given to retiring generals and foreign dignitaries.

So I was totally surprised and shocked. And to be honest, when the general congratulated me and after he put the award around my neck, I shook his hand, and he said, congratulations, and I said, you're sure you got the right guy?


CATHY WURZER: General Manke?

SHAWN MANKE: Yeah, and Stephen and Lavender magazine have done a lot to promote our organization and really also educate some of my senior staff on the LGBTQ+ community and really helps us partner and interact with the community effectively. And he's a person that I go to when I have questions how to deal with a situation.

And he's always there for our team to reach out to and get clarification and provide sound, sage advice. And we're a better organization because of it. And the old adage soldier for life, I think Stephen is a soldier for life with what he continues to give to our service members, not only our soldiers, but our airmen as well in his efforts in the LGBTQ+ community.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Gentlemen, it's a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us.

STEPHEN ROCHEFORD: Thank you, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Stephen Rocheford is the president and CEO of Lavender magazine, which is a bi-weekly publication for the LGBTQ community. Major General Shawn Manke is the adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard.

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