At the Inn

In the relaxed atmosphere of the bed & breakfast, St. George was able to have more candid conversations than in the formal, somber surroundings of Arlington Cemetery. People were eating and drinking and, most importantly for St. George, reminiscing about Rogers. Though a reporting team for National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” had been at the party earlier that evening, they were interested not in Rogers’ sexuality, but that his death coincided with the 4,000 th American combat death in Iraq.

St. George spoke to Rogers’ local friends, some of whom identified themselves as gay and who told her that Rogers had been active in the Washington gay community. He had served as the treasurer and membership coordinator of American Veterans for Equal Rights, or AVER, a gay veterans’ rights group. Tony Smith, Rogers’ friend and a fellow AVER officer, recalls telling St. George about Rogers’ zeal in organizing AVER membership drives. [1]

Though many people spoke to her that night about Rogers’ life, what emerged wasn’t a uniform picture. St. George talked at length with Shay Hill, Rogers’ college roommate and the beneficiary of his will. Hill said he had known about and accepted Rogers’ sexuality, but he did not volunteer any additional information on that part of Rogers’ life. Hill lived in Florida and was not part of the circle of Rogers’ gay friends in Washington. Hill said that Rogers did not share information about his sexual orientation with everyone in his life. Instead, he decided whom to tell and when on a case-by-case basis. For St. George, this still left unanswered the question of whether he would have wanted to be identified as gay in a newspaper article.

St. George also spoke to Cathy Long, Rogers’ cousin and closest surviving family member. Long had been given the flag that had draped Rogers’ coffin, but had learned that Rogers had been gay only after his death. She talked about how Rogers had been ordained as a Baptist minister at his church in Florida. As far as his sexual orientation, “[s]he didn’t really have anything to add to that, or to develop that part of his life at all,” St. George recalls.

In fact, she expressed some reluctance about that issue… [I]t did matter that there wasn’t anyone in the family to discuss that issue or to talk, most importantly, about what his wishes were.

[1] Author’s interview with Tony Smith, October 1, 2008, in Pentagon City, VA. All further quotes from Smith, unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.