For the first time, military recruiters made an appearance Thursday at a gay community center on Long Island -- and even though the turnout was sparse, organizers hailed the significance of the event.
Theresa McCormick, 17, took advantage of the presence of Navy and Marine recruiters at the GLBT center in Garden City to weigh her options.
The daughter of Navy veterans, McCormick, a lesbian interning at the center, is considering a military career.
The recruiters, she said, sent a welcome message: "Come on in."
While only a handful of potential recruits showed up, "it's not the numbers that are significant," said David Kilmnick, chief executive of the Long Island Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Services Network, which runs centers in Garden City and Bay Shore.
"What's important is that branches of the armed forces were here to actively recruit gay and lesbian youth," he said.
More may not have come, he said, because for years the military has been seen as a place where they would have to be closeted.
Kilmnick said Thursday's event was a local milestone and may have been the first visit by military recruiters to a gay center in New York State.
Recruiters from the Navy and Marines attended. The Air Force and Army, which could not send recruiters due to scheduling conflicts, sent representatives. They said they knew of no other recruiting events at gay community centers in New York.
Clearing the way for the event was last year's repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which now allows gays and lesbians to serve openly. Before the repeal, gay troops faced discharge if they revealed their sexual orientation. The law also prohibited commanding officers from asking about sexual orientation.
Marine spokesman Maj. John Caldwell said his recruiters wouldn't have accepted such an invitation before the repeal because it would have been "incongruent with the law and policy." The Navy would have attended, a spokesman said, if only to answer questions.
Recruiters and military representatives downplayed the significance of their appearance in Garden City.
"To us, it's the same as if we were at the mall," said Marine spokesman Lt. Timothy Irish.
McCormick enjoyed the opportunity. She told a recruiter that she was favoring the Marines over the Air Force.
"Why?" asked Marine Sgt. Kristin Moreno.
McCormick cited the Marines' "harder physical training" and preparation as positives.
"I agree with that," Marine Staff Sgt. Marc Oxley, another recruiter, said.
Afterward, McCormick, of Scranton, Pa., marveled at the new openness.
"There have always been GLBT people in the military. They couldn't be open about it," she said. "It would have been difficult not being able to talk about your life. I don't think I would have done it."