Rich Merritt

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Rich Merritt
Born (1967-09-26) September 26, 1967 (age 46)
Greenville, South Carolina, United States of America
Occupation Author, attorney
Partner(s) Jonathan Wood (2006–present)
Website
richmerritt.wordpress.com

Richard Wayne Merritt (born September 26, 1967) is an author and attorney. Merritt has also spoken at universities, law schools[1] and other civic organizations about topics ranging from issues on gay and lesbian equality to fundamentalism. He has been a public figure since he was featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine on June 28, 1998, in an article by Jennifer Egan entitled "Uniforms In The Closet: The Shadow Life Of A Gay Marine".[2] He now resides in Manhattan.

Biography[edit]

Early life[edit]

Merritt was born in Greenville, South Carolina to fundamentalist Christian parents.[3] Merritt attended the elementary and secondary schools of Bob Jones University.[3] During his high school summers he worked in various positions at The Wilds,[3] a fundamentalist Christian camp.[4] He attended Bob Jones University for two years and in 1988 transferred to Clemson University.

United States Marine Corps[edit]

Soon after his eighteenth birthday, Merritt enlisted in the United States Marine Corps (the Marine Forces Reserve) and in January 1986 he shipped off to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.[3] After completing boot camp he attended a brief occupational school at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama. Merritt returned to Greenville where he joined his Marine Corps Reserve unit, a company of ammunition technicians.[3] Merritt attained the rank of sergeant in May 1990 but because he was transitioning to the officer program, he did not deploy to Operation Desert Storm with the reserve unit.

In December 1990 Merritt was commissioned a second lieutenant and reported to active duty at the Marine Corps Base Quantico for The Basic School. At the end of the six-month course, he was assigned the Military Occupational Specialty of surface-to-air missile officer, specifically commanding Marines in the FIM-92 Stinger missile field. His first position was as a platoon commander with the 1st Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (1st LAAD) at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, on the island of Okinawa, Japan. During his year-long tour in Okinawa Merritt deployed with his Stinger platoons to the Philippines and South Korea for brief stints.

Following his overseas tour Merritt was promoted to first lieutenant and transferred to 3rd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (3rd LAAD) at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California near San Diego. He continued assignments with Stinger missiles, planning and executing training missions in the Mojave Desert at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms and in Arizona at the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. In 1994 he became part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (15th MEU), a Marine unit that deploys aboard a group of ships known as an Amphibious ready group that was led by the USS Tripoli. Merritt led a section of Air Control Group Marines on a six-month deployment aboard the USS Rushmore. The ARG participated in military and humanitarian assistance operations in Somalia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. In Somalia, the 15th MEU assisted in the withdrawal of Operation United Shield and the United Nations Operation in Somalia II (UNOSOM II) as a result of hostilities by General Mohamed Farrah Aidid.

In October 1994, Saddam Hussein moved 80,000 Iraqi troops to areas near the border with Kuwait, posing an imminent threat of a renewed invasion of or attack against Kuwait.[5] The 15th MEU and the Tripoli ARG, coincidentally training in the Persian Gulf at the time, recharted their course and entered Kuwait Harbor as the first on scene to oppose Saddam's renewed hostilities. After a two-week stalemate, the Iraqi troops stood down and the Marines departed the Gulf, returning to San Diego on schedule. Because of the period of hostilities the Marines and Sailors received combat recognition. Merritt was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his leadership during the six-month deployment.[3]

He returned to Camp Pendleton after the deployment with the 15th MEU and rejoined 3rd LAAD Battaltion in 1995 and 1996. In June 1995 he was promoted to the rank of captain and in October he was selected for retention into the regular officer Corps. The new Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, then-Major General Fred McCorkle, selected Merritt to be his personal aide-de-camp. Despite being a period of peacetime, 1996 and 1997 were turbulent years for the Marine aviation community in Southern California because Marine Corps Air Station El Toro and Marine Corps Air Station Tustin, both in Orange County were closing as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission's decision. At the end of the year as aide, General McCorkle awarded Merritt the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.

In 1997 and 1998 Merritt served as the commanding officer of Alpha Battery, a 100-man unit of Stinger missile teams and Avenger vehicle systems at MCB Camp Pendleton. In August 1998 Merritt tendered his resignation from the Marine Corps and was honorably discharged after almost thirteen years of service in the active and reserve Marine forces.

Law[edit]

In August 1998 Merritt enrolled at the University of Southern California Law School in Los Angeles[6] and graduated with a Juris Doctorate in May 2001. He was a summer associate at the LA office of the international law firm Jones Day and became an associate after law school. He was admitted to the California Bar Association in December 2001.

In late 2003 Merritt's father was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a fatal disease known more commonly in the US as Lou Gehrig's disease. The diagnosis and the nature of the illness prompted Merritt to give up his San Diego law practice in early 2004 and return to the South to be near his family in this time of crisis.[7] He obtained employment at the former Powell Goldsten, an Atlanta law firm now part of Bryan Cave. His father died in 2005 and a year later Merritt moved to New York where currently he works as an attorney in Manhattan.

Controversies[edit]

Fundamentalism[edit]

According to his memoir, Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island was the first time he had any significant experience away from the fundamentalist enclave of Greenville and the BJU campus. At basic training his rackmate was Catholic, the first time he had befriended someone outside his faith. Also, Bob Jones University was notorious for its racially discriminatory rules. At boot camp, Merritt had an African-American drill instructor, the first time a black man had been in authority over him. Merritt has described boot camp as a "liberalizing experience."

When he left his initial active duty training assignments and returned to BJU, Merritt began having problems with the rules and policies of the school. A year later he withdrew while on a disciplinary status known as "spiritual probation."[citation needed]

Sexual orientation[edit]

Merritt had not yet grappled with the issue of his homosexual orientation. In his memoirs, Merritt claimed that when he attended Bob Jones Junior High School, Bob Jones III, then-president of BJU, said at a White House anti-gay protest that "homosexuals should be stoned to death as the Bible commanded." [8] The hostile environment forced Merritt to deny to himself that he was gay. Once removed from the fundamentalist world, however, he could no longer deny his same-sex attraction.

In August 1998 Merritt received an honorable discharge from the Marines and immediately enrolled at the University of Southern California Law School. That fall, a freelance writer named Max Harrold, approached Merritt about interviewing him for a story he planned to pitch to The Advocate, the leading national news and interest magazine serving the lesbian and gay community. Merritt agreed and he and Harrold met with Judy Wieder, The Advocate's editor-in-chief. She agreed to publish the story in the end-of-the year double issue featuring a roundup of notable events from 1998. The cover story for the issue featured George Michael, the singer who had just been arrested for public masturbation.[9]

The February 16, 1999 edition of The Advocate exposed Merritt's secret career in gay pornography in a cover story titled "The Marine Who Did Gay Porn."[10]

In 2002 Merritt began working on his autobiography. In a cover story for A&U Magazine, Merritt described his motivations for writing the memoir, saying he wanted to set the record straight about his activities in gay porn and at Bob Jones University, but that writing the memoir was also therapeutic.[11] Ironically, initially he worked with an editor at Alyson Publications

Periodicals[edit]

From 1996 until his resignation from the Marines in 1998, Merritt wrote an op-ed column for the Navy-Marine Corps Times, a Gannett-owned newspaper[12] distributed on US military installations throughout the world. The Times had a section called "Back Talk" where one Sailor and one Marine shared their opinions on different aspects of the service. So that he could write candidly without fear of repercussion, the Times encouraged Merritt to write under a pseudonym so he chose the name "Buster Pittman," the name of his boyfriend's dog.[9] For his columns, the Times editors allowed Merritt to use his column to advocate controversial positions such as allowing women to serve in combat, reducing the penalty for adultery from a felony conviction to a misdemeanor and repealing "Don't ask, don't tell" to allow lesbians and gay men to serve openly in the military.

This last column caught the attention of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a watchdog group in Washington, DC who provided or arranged for legal aid to members of the military who needed assistance under the "Don't ask, don't tell" law.

Books[edit]

  • "Secrets Of A Gay Marine Porn Star"
  • "Code of Conduct"
  • "Spiritual Probation"

Media coverage[edit]

Television[edit]

  • June 6, 2005, the release date for Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star, Merritt was interviewed by Jamie Guerolla for WHNS-Carolina, the Fox affiliate in Greenville, South Carolina. The focus of the interview was on Merritt's time at Bob Jones University. BJU did not participate in the story, except to say they "regretted the choices Merritt has made."
  • June 10, 2006, Merritt is interviewed by Stephanie Butler on Under The Pink Carpet as part of Will Clark's porno bingo night in Manhattan.[13]
  • In January 2008, to launch the media blitz for Code of Conduct Merritt was interviewed for CBS News on Logo (TV Channel) by Itay Hod.[14]

Radio[edit]

June 2005, as part of his media tour for "Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star", Merritt was interviewed by Steve Pride.

See also[edit]

References[edit]