Relative of gay veteran who came out in obituary ‘so sorry he had to hide who he was’

Retired firefighter and army veteran Edward Thomas Ryan, who came out as gay in his obituary

A family member of the veteran who came out as gay in his own obituary has spoken out, saying she is “so sorry he had to hide who he was”.  

Colonel Edward Thomas Ryan, who died at the age of 85, came out as gay in an obituary published by Albany Times Union last week. 

The obituary listed many of his achievements but also contained a personal note where Ryan revealed he had not come out while alive for fear of being ostracised. 

“I must tell you one more thing. I was gay all my life: through grade school, through high school, college, through life,” he wrote. 

He added that he had been in a “loving and caring relationship” with Paul Cavagnaro for 25 years before his partner’s death in 1994. “He was the love of my life… I’ll be buried next to Paul,” he wrote.

Now, his niece Linda Sargent has come forward and said the man she called Uncle Ed is at peace. She told Good Morning America that she had cared for Ryan in his final years, and told him to “not be ashamed” to tell the world who he was. 

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“I said: ‘Uncle Ed, if that’s what you want to tell the world, tell the world that you’re gay. Don’t be ashamed of it’. He was a great man, and I’m so sorry he had to hide who he was.”

Sargent believes part of the reason the former firefighter and decorated Vietnam veteran feared coming out publicly was the backlash he might have received, particularly because his military service.

It was not legal to be an out LGBTQ+ person in the US military until 2011. While it was illegal until 1993, the ban was replaced with a policy dubbed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which meant that LGBTQ+ people could serve as long as they kept their sexuality a secret. If a gay person was open, they could still be discharged.

Sargent said that while Ryan was close to his family, she does not remember him discussing his private life, and she had never met his long-term partner.

“I think his siblings knew, but it was never spoken about,” Sargent said.

Explaining that Ryan had spoken in his final days about his desire to be reunited with Paul, she said: “He wanted to go home. He wanted to be with him, that I do know. He never had another partner after that.”

Sargent added that she was touched by the response to his coming out. “I talk to him, like: ‘Uncle Ed, you don’t even know what’s going on down here. You don’t know what your obituary did to people around the world. People are sending messages from all over’.

“In a way, he got his salute, and got to open doors for other people.”

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