Don't Ask, Don't Tell was approved by President Bill Clinton in 1993 as a compromise to end a long-standing ban on homosexuals serving in the military, but also requiring them to maintain silence about their sexual orientation.
Commanders were not supposed to ask service members about their orientation (the "Don't Ask" half of the policy); gay members were prohibited from declaring their homosexuality ("Don't Tell"). They still could be discharged for homosexual conduct.
The compromise satisfied no one. Steve Hall, executive director of the gay alumni group USNA Out, called Don't Ask, Don't Tell a "cruel policy" that led gay midshipmen to believe that they couldn't discuss their sexuality with academy chaplains or counselors.
"One of the first things people want to do when they start figuring out that they're gay is they just want to talk to somebody about it," said Hall, a 1975 academy graduate. USNA Out counseled midshipmen on how to live within the rules.
Second-year midshipman Kay Moore entered the Navy after high school as an enlisted sailor. When she came to the Naval Academy, she said, "I felt the most closeted I had ever felt in my life."
"I didn't feel in danger at all," said Moore, 24, of Boise, Idaho. "I just felt that it was best for me to keep my mouth shut."
Congress voted at the end of 2010 to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell, contingent on certification by the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that lifting the ban would not harm military readiness.
By then, every service member, civilian employee and academy cadet in the military had received training on what the end of the policy meant. At the Naval Academy, each midshipman attended a session led by a senior officer and continued the discussion within their companies.
"Basically, it was stuff we already knew," Yingling said. "Something that our parents probably taught us. You know, like, be nice to people and don't be hurtful."
Moore describes the actual repeal as almost anticlimactic at first.
"Sept. 19 was one day and Sept. 20 was the next day," she said. "I mean, it's like going from Monday to Tuesday — it was not different.
"Now, this far along in the process, I've begun to feel that more people are open with it. I can have a conversation with my girlfriend or with my gay or lesbian friends in public and not have to worry about someone sending me up the chain of command for discharge."
Still, she said, she has to be careful not to offend some people with her sexuality.
"They may not like it," she said. "So I don't discuss things that even straight people shouldn't discuss in public. ... I can mention that I have a girlfriend, if I were to have one, without fearing separation from the Naval Academy."
For Bryant, repeal lifted "an unnecessary source of stress."
"Now that it's gone," she said, "I can just focus on what's really important, like my academics and trying to become an officer and just dealing with daily academy life."
Cmdr. William Marks, an academy spokesman, says the training helped to ease the transition. But he also credited the attitudes of the young people who make up the Brigade of Midshipmen.
"I would say most folks here are in this generation that is accepting and understanding," said Marks, a 1996 graduate. "We understand people are born a certain way and you have certain personal and private things in your life, and we're very much OK with just saying, 'Go ahead and do what you want to do.'"
Hall, of the alumni group, says the repeal does not solve all of the challenges that confront gay midshipmen.