What did Rogers want?

St. George stayed at the bed & breakfast far into the night, and the longer she stayed, the larger one question loomed in her mind: Would Alan Rogers have wanted to be publicly identified as gay in the event of his death? This was, after all, a central consideration in the Post ’s general standard for determining whether a person should be identified as gay in its pages. However, because Rogers had died without making his wishes on the subject known, she was left to piece things together. It was no easy task. Going to gay bars and being open with certain friends was one thing, but publishing Rogers’ sexual orientation in one of the nation’s most widely read newspapers was another. “This is a private, personal matter,” St. George thought at the time, “and we need to know that someone has a wish to have this published in the Washington Post and told in a story for a million people, or not.”

At one point in the evening, St. George approached the evening’s organizer and Rogers’ close friend, Tami Sadowski. Sadowski, a Maryland realtor, had been helping Rogers scout for a place to live after his return from the war. At the end of his deployment, Sadowski said, Rogers had planned to retire from the Army and work as a military contractor because contractors did work similar to active duty personnel, yet were paid significantly more and could be open about their sexuality. [1]

Knowing that Sadowski and Rogers had been close—Rogers had stood as “man of honor” at Sadowski’s recent wedding—St. George decided to broach the issue: Did Rogers want to be identified as gay after his death? “I asked her, ‘Did you ever have a conversation with him? How do you know… what he wanted?’” St. George recalls. “And she said, ‘I wish I could be sure. I feel like it’s what he wanted because I think that he was going to retire from the military at some point so that he could live more openly. So, taking those ideas together, I feel this is what he wanted.’” This did not help St. George. “It was [his friends’] guess of what [Rogers] wanted, and it wasn’t anyone who had a conversation saying this is what he wanted,” she says. St. George asked several others the same question, and received similar answers.

But if Rogers’ preference was murky, one thing was clear: He had been a warm and engaging human being. St. George was “very struck by how many people felt like they were his best friend, who felt like he had this incredible gift for listening to people, for making people feel like they were the only person in the world, in his life,” she says. Each person she talked to claimed to have known Rogers best, to have been his adopted family. But ultimately they were all just friends. Moreover, their accounts of Rogers’ wishes were not consistent. Different people had different understandings of how open and comfortable Rogers had been with his sexuality as an ambitious, active-duty officer.

St. George left the party no closer to an answer. The next morning, she sat down to try to make sense of it in a story for Sunday’s paper.

[1] Ben McGrath, “A Soldier’s Legacy,” The New Yorker , August 4, 2008.