Rob Smith

Gay Iraq War Vet, Award-winning Journalist & Author

“One of the most powerful speakers I’ve ever heard.”
—Natalie Unger, President of Rainbow Alliance, University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh

Rob Smith served for five years in the United States Army as an Infantryman and deployed to both Kuwait and Iraq, earning the Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantry Badge in the process. He is the author of Confessions of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Soldier: How a Black, Gay Man Survived the Infantry, Coming Out, and the War in Iraq. In 2010 he was arrested at the White House with 12 other LGBT activists in protest of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law which barred lesbian, gay, and bisexual soldiers from serving openly, and he was later a guest of President Barack Obama at the ceremony that repealed the law.

A sought-after keynote speaker, Rob Smith has spoken about veterans’ issues and LGBT rights and empowerment at dozens of college campuses, pride events, and corporate functions across the United States, including Vanderbilt University, Virginia Tech, the Reaching Out LGBT MBA Conference, and the 2014 Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender and Allies College Conference among many more.

In 2014, Rob Smith served as the Grand Marshal of the Key West Pride Parade, and was a featured speaker at the NYC Pride Rally. He’s been featured on HLN’s The Daily Share, Huffpost Live, Dr. Drew On Call, and CNN. He is a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) award for Excellence In Blogging and the 2016 Gay City News LGBT Impact Award for multimedia coverage of issues impacting the LGBT community. The original publication of his memoir won the National Indie Excellence Book Award for LGBT Nonfiction and was a nominee for a Lambda Literary Award for Memoir.

Rob Smith holds an M.S. in Journalism from Columbia University.

Praise for Rob Smith’s Talks

“The event was an absolute success and I really think that we reached a group of students within the LGBTQ community that we rarely talk about. Rob was a great speaker and I think everyone that came really enjoyed his lecture.”

—University of Delaware

“We couldn’t have asked for a better representative of the community to be our Grand Marshal for Key West Pride! His reading/lecture with the local VFW and with our MCC church brought a dose of energy and inspiration to our Pride Week!”

—Matt Hon, Executive Director, Key West Business Guild

“Rob’s talk was excellent! Students felt like he was speaking to them individually, and they were moved by his words. The event also was a great relationship builder between LGBT groups and veteran groups on campus. We were so pleased!”

—University of Wisconsin, Whitewater

“We were thrilled to have Rob our keynote speaker for our Pride Month activities. As both an author and journalist and a veteran LGBT activist, he gave us much needed insight about how a consistent focus on inclusion is always good for the bottom line.”

—Deutsche Bank

“We invited Rob Smith to be a keynote for Macalester College’s Pride Month. Engaging, sincere, and professionally human are only some of the words to describe how he presented himself, his story, and his desire to support our engagement with diversity and inclusion.”

—Macalester College

“Rob Smith is a dynamic, engaging speaker and very candid about the challenges and rewards of embracing all facets of his identity.  He emphasizes the importance of advocacy, empowerment, and solidarity for both marginalized groups as well as allies.  Rob’s emphasis on inclusion and respect effectively ties into our Catholic and Franciscan values at Siena College.”

—Br. George Camacho, O.F.M., Assistant Director, Damietta Cross-Cultural Center, Siena College

Praise for Confessions of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Soldier

“. . .a riveting first-hand account of a shameful time in our recent history when courageous men like Smith were forced to serve their country in silence.”

—Keith Boykin, New York Times bestselling author

“Smith does not hold back. . . Here is a lesson learned, where you can truly choose to become all that you can be, and especially be true to yourself.”


“. . .a highly relatable account of a young man overcoming considerable odds and coming out whole on the other side.”

Gay City News

“. . .full of feeling and a fundamental sense of principle.”

Army Times

Speaking Topic Descriptions


Confessions of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Soldier: Finding The Path to Pride

In this lecture spanning intersectional issues of Veterans’ rights and LGBTQ struggles Gay Iraq War Veteran and multimedia journalist Rob Smith goes in depth into the challenges that young LGBTQ people face, as well as the challenges that veterans face on the battlefield—and the home front. A decorated Iraq War Veteran and multimedia journalist, he currently reports for NBC News, Time, and AOL among others. He also serves as the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) Ambassador for Veterans Outreach, and has given lectures and workshops about the issues faced by veterans all across the country.

Smith entered the U.S. Army as a closeted teen and emerged as a decorated war veteran before becoming a national figure in the anti-DADT movement. In his lecture Confessions of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Soldier: Finding the Path to Pride, (adapted from his Lambda Literary Award-nominated memoir) he details his life as a closeted soldier, his experiences at war, and the transition into becoming a leading voice for veterans and LGBTQ people—first as an activist—now as a Columbia University educated multimedia journalist.

Best for: LGBTQ Student Groups, African-American Affinity Groups, LGBT History Month, Black History Month, Coming Out Week, Pride Week, Spirit Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Veteran Student Groups, Veteran Groups

Beyond “Diversity:” Bringing True Inclusion to Your Company or Organization

“Diversity” is out. True inclusion means bringing people of different backgrounds and perspectives into your organization—and doing your part to make sure they are heard. Gay Iraq War Veteran and multimedia journalist Rob Smith has spoken across the country about his experiences as a gay soldier serving under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and now juggles his journalism work with service as the National Black Justice Coalition’s Ambassador for Veterans Outreach.

Smith has spoken at companies such as Deutsche Bank, The Key West Business Guild, and others interested in recruiting and training a workforce that is inclusive of veterans, LGBTQ people, and people of color. In his lecture “Beyond Diversity,” he will give your company or organization tips about how to to broaden its racial and socioeconomic reach in the service of true inclusion.

Best for: Corporate Retreats, Corporate Functions, Corporate Workshops, Corporate Pride Month Events, Corporate African-American History Month Events, Corporate Veterans Month Events, Memorial Day Events, Veterans Day Events

The State of LGBTQ People of Color in 2016 and Beyond

In this lecture Rob Smith offers sobering statistics and anecdotes from his own life as well as his journalistic work in the hopes of giving allies of LGBTQ people of color an insight into the issues they face, and the tools and advice that POC need to survive in a society where the deck is stacked against them.

Thanks to trailblazers like Laverne Cox, Empire star Jussie Smollett, and sports icons like Jason Collins, LGBTQ people of color are more visible than ever. However, the life of the average LGBTQ person of color is far different than that of those of our most prominent figures. QPOC contend with with racism within the LGBT community, institutional and economic barriers to resources and healthcare, and HIV/AIDS rates that continue to rise even as they stabilize among other communities.

Openly gay Iraq war veteran, author, and journalist Smith has been on the front lines of all these issues. As a journalist exploring economic differences in access to PrEP for HIV prevention as a part of a Columbia University journalism project, he spoke with young black gay men and healthcare professionals who were on the front lines of advocacy. As one of few black, gay figures involved in the fight against DADT, he spoke and reported about how African-American soldiers were disproportionately affected by the discriminatory law, and advocated for open service by transgender service members post-DADT repeal. Finally, as a black gay man negotiating a career in media and advocacy, he’s dealt with his own share of racism in the wider LGBTQ community.

Best for: LGBTQ Student Groups, African-American Affinity Groups, LGBT History Month, Black History Month, Coming Out Week, Pride Week, Spirit Day