Sean Fucci knows he’s one of the fortunate ones. But that doesn’t make him feel any better. The former Air Force serviceman is one of a select few in the armed forces to admit he is gay convince a board of officers that, although he had acknowledged his sexual orientation, he would never act on it. Easier said than done. “I got lucky,” Fucci says.

Still, Fucci isn’t in the military anymore. After surviving the Air Force’s attempt to push him out, he says, he found a series of anonymous notes on his bunk. One read: “Die Fag.” He had to move away from the other airmen, to private housing off the base at Fort Meade, Md. When his enlisted hitch expired, he left the service. “I got through the board. I wanted them to know that they weren’t getting rid of me,” he says. “Ultimately, they got what they wanted. I didn’t stay in. I didn’t feel safe.”

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