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Gay rower was part of secret LGBTQ military network during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

John Olbrys is now living openly as an officer in the Coast Guard, continuing to row and now finding love.

John Olbrys is a commissioned officer in the Coast Guard.
John Olbrys is part of the Coast Guard, now living openly as a gay service member as he chases his rowing dreams.
William Waybourn

When John Olbrys was rowing for the Coast Guard Academy, he was doing it during the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era, when living openly as a gay man, or simply mentioning he was gay to a teammate, could result in him being expelled from the school and the military.

On the latest episode of the Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast, Olbrys talks about the aura of fear that overwhelmed his ability to express his true self, as well as the quiet group of LGBTQ people in the military who found one another for support.

“I did have friends at the academy who knew I was gay, but they were also fellow queer folks who were at the school who were running the same gay underground that we created,” Olbrys says. “But none of my teammates knew. It was very difficult for me to figure out aside from my queer allies who I could tell and feel safe telling without running the risk of that being the wrong person and all of a sudden I’m being thrown out because of my identity.”

Since graduating from the Academy around the end of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, Olbrys has continued to serve in the Coast Guard, where he says various deployments often got in the way of him developing a relationship. Now living in Washington D.C., where he rows with the Potomac Boat Club, he has found love in his longtime boyfriend, Dave.

He also talks about finding his way to Potomac, racing in gay events that he says are a lot of fun, and aiming for the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, where he recently competed.

You can listen to the conversation with rower and Coast Guard officer John Olbrys on the Five Rings To Rule Them All podcast on Megaphone, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple podcasts and many more platforms. Just search for Outsports wherever you get your podcast.

And be sure to follow Five Rings To Rule Them All on Twitter.

You can follow John Olbrys on Instagram or Twitter.