Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel may attend an upcoming event at the Defense Department to celebrate June as Pride month, according to two Pentagon officials familiar with the event.
On Tuesday, sources told the Washington Blade that Hagel has expressed interest in attending the event to honor LGB service members and LGBT members of the civilian workforce, but he hasn’t yet expressed a firm commitment because his schedule at that time isn’t yet clear.
Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a DOD spokesperson, confirmed that a Pentagon Pride event is set to take place later this month, but offered few details.
“The DoD Pride Organization is in the process of organizing an event at the Pentagon later this month,” Christensen said. “No firm date has yet been set. DOD Pride is a private organization which is comprised of DOD civilians and service members whose charter is to represent LGB service members, LGBT civilian employees, contractors, and families throughout the Department of Defense.”
Christensen added the Pentagon itself isn’t planning the event, but has formally recognized June as Pride month. He didn’t respond to a follow-up email on whether Hagel has expressed an interest in attending the event.
It would be the first time that a sitting defense secretary has attended a Pride event at the Pentagon. Last year, when the Pentagon hosted a Pride event for the first time, the senior DOD official who spoke on stage was then-Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson, one of the co-chairs of the study that examined the impact of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta delivered a video message, but didn’t appear at the event.
Hagel’s participation would be noteworthy because at the time of his nomination for defense secretary, many members of the LGBT community were wary about his confirmation.
Many expressed concern over comments he reportedly made to the Omaha World Herald in 1998 when he said the then-nominee for U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg shouldn’t be confirmed because he’s “openly aggressively gay.” Hagel later apologized for the remark.
As a Republican U.S. senator representing Nebraska, Hagel had a dismal voting record on LGBT issues. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004, but didnât cast a vote in 2006.
Still, over the course of the nomination process, Hagel said he supports “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and pledged to implement “expeditiously” benefits for troops with same-sex partners available under current law.
DOD’s announcement of the Pride event comes on the heels of a memorandum obtained by the Blade on Monday in which the Pentagon officially observes June as Pride month. The document, which recognizes President Obama’s Pride proclamation, is dated May 31 and is signed by Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity Director Clarence Johnson.
“We recognize gay, lesbian and bisexual service members and LGBT civilians for their dedicated service to our country,” the memo states. “Each year of his administration, President Obama has issued a proclamation recognizing that our national security is strengthened by the heroic contributions these Americans make to our Department, and have made throughout out history. The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remain corner stones of our military and civilian culture.”
Allyson Robinson, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, praised the Pentagon for observing June as Pride month, but expressed discontent with the omission of transgender service members from the statement.
That omission is also found in the response above provided by Christensen. Currently, openly transgender people are unable to serve in the military and are issued medical discharges if their gender identity becomes known.
âTransgender people have served this nation with pride, honor, and distinction â and continue to do so in the hundreds, if not thousands,” Robinson said. “Itâs past time to honor them for their service and sacrifice, and past time to end the discredited and obsolete practice of forcing them to serve in silence and fear.”
A House Republican from Louisiana is proposing a measure to expand the “conscience provision” in defense law in a way that would make it easier for service members to harass their gay comrades, according to a copy of his amendment provided by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The amendment, proposed by Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), puts the burden on the Pentagon to prove that the expression of religious beliefs would be an “actual harm” to good order and discipline in refusing to make an accommodation.
Further, the measure requires the Pentagon to implement regulations within 120 days after the defense secretary consults with “officialÂ militaryÂ Â faith-groupÂ representativesÂ whoÂ endorseÂ militaryÂ chaplains.”
Fleming introduced the amendment before the House Armed Services Committee as a proposed change to the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill. The markup of that bill started at 10 a.m. on Wednesday and is expected to conclude late in the evening.
Ian Thompson, legislative representative of the ACLU, said the language proposed by the three-term House Republican would have a detrimental impact on a commanding officer’s ability to protect gay service members from harassment.
“It would tie the hands of commanders, prohibiting them from responsibly addressing threats to unit cohesion that an accommodation might create,” Thompson said.
The amendment would expand an existing “conscience provision” already in the law that President Obama signed under Section 533 as part of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Act. At the time of the signing, Obama called it “unnecessary” and said he was signing the defense package under assurances the Pentagon wouldn’t “permit or condone discriminatory actions that compromise good order and discipline or otherwise violate military codes of conduct.”
Sexual orientation isn’t mentioned anywhere in the amendment, nor in the existing provision in the law that it would expand, but the amendment is likely intended to protect anti-gay service members.
Fleming’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the amendment or to verify the language offered by the ACLU.
The language of the amendment as provided by the ACLU follows:
SEC.Â 5 EXPANSION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF PROTECTIONÂ OFÂ RIGHTSÂ OF CONSCIENCEÂ OFÂ MEMBERSÂ OFÂ THEÂ ARMEDÂ FORCES ANDÂ CHAPLAINSÂ OFÂ SUCHÂ MEMBERS
(a)Â Â ACCOMMODATIONÂ Â OFÂ MEMBERS’Â Â BELIEFS, ACTIONS,Â Â AJ’\JDÂ SPEECH.-SubsectionÂ Â (a)(1)Â Â Â ofÂ section 533Â ofÂ theÂ NationalÂ DefenseÂ AuthorizationÂ Â ActÂ forÂ FiscalÂ YearÂ 2013Â Â (PublicÂ Â LawÂ 112-239;Â 126Â Â Stat.Â Â 1727;Â Â 10Â Â U.S.C.Â prec.Â 1030Â note)Â isÂ amended -
(1) by striking “TheÂ Â Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs” and inserting “Except in cases of military necessity, the ArmedÂ Â ForcesÂ Â shallÂ accommodateÂ Â theÂ Â beliefs,Â actions,Â Â andÂ Â speech”;Â Â and
(2)Â Â byÂ Â insertingÂ Â Â ”,Â Â Â actions,Â Â Â orÂ Â speech”Â Â Â afterÂ ”suchÂ Â beliefs”.
(b)Â NARROWÂ EXCEPTION.-SubsectionÂ (a)(2)Â Â of this sectionÂ isÂ amendedÂ byÂ strikingÂ Â ”thatÂ threaten”Â andÂ insertingÂ ”thatÂ actuallyÂ harm”.
(c) Â DEADLINEÂ Â FORÂ Â Â REGULATIONS;Â Â Â Â CONSULTATION.-TheÂ Â implementationÂ regulations requiredÂ Â byÂ subsectionÂ Â (c)Â ofÂ suchÂ Â sectionÂ Â shallÂ Â beÂ issuedÂ Â notÂ Â laterÂ Â thanÂ 120 daysÂ after theÂ Â enactmentÂ Â ofÂ thisÂ Â Act.Â Â In preparingÂ suchÂ regulations,Â Â theÂ SecretaryÂ ofÂ DefenseÂ shallÂ consultÂ Â withÂ Â theÂ Â officialÂ militaryÂ Â faith-groupÂ representativesÂ whoÂ endorseÂ militaryÂ chaplains.
A Louisiana House Republican is defending a “conscience” amendment that would make it easier for service members to harass their gay colleagues in the wake of White House objections to the measure.
In a statement on Wednesday, Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) blasted the Obama administration for criticizing his amendment â which has become Section 530 of the House version of the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization bill â by saying the president is “continuing his war on free speech.”
“With its statement, the White House is now endorsing military reprimands of members who keep a Bible on their desk or express a religious belief,” Fleming said. “That is an outrageous position, but itâs what Iâve come to expect from an administration that is aggressively hostile toward religious beliefs that it deems to be politically incorrect.”
The measure puts the burden on the Pentagon to prove that the expression of religious beliefs would be an âactual harmâ to good order and discipline in refusing to make an accommodation. Itâs seen as a way for troops to harass their gay colleagues for religious reasons without fear of reprisal.
The lawmaker’s reaction comes in response to the Statement of Administration Policy that the White House Office of Management and Budget made public on Tuesday. The administration said it “strongly objects” to the provision because it would undermine a military commander’s authority in a unit. The White House has threatened a veto of the House version of the defense authorization bill, but it didn’t enumerate that provision as a reason for the veto threat.
Fleming, a physician and small business owner, goes on in his statement to say the purpose of the amendment is to protect the free speech of service members who hold religious beliefs.
“It hasÂ bipartisan support and takes into account the unique context of military service, accommodating the beliefs of our service members, while not jeopardizing military necessity,” Fleming said. “We need to protect the free speech of the brave warriors who fight to safeguard our liberties, and I hope Congress will reject this blatant White House attack on religious freedom.â
Zeke Stokes, spokesperson for OutServe-SLDN, disputed Fleming’s characterization of his amendment, saying the lawmaker’s “rhetoric does not match reality.”
“The fact is that this amendmentÂ would protect inappropriate, defamatory, and discriminatory speech and actions â a significant expansion of current protections â and would leave commanders with no recourse against such prejudicial conduct when it occurs in their units,” Stokes said. “The military already has in place adequate protections for religious freedom and this measure is unwarranted and harmful.”
The full statement from Fleming follows:
âPresident Obama is continuing his war on free speech.Â With the IRS trying to intimidate and silence conservative groups, and the Justice Department digging into the phone records of reporters, it’sÂ no surprise that the president also wants to deny First Amendment rights to our Armed Forces. With its statement, the White House is now endorsing military reprimands of members who keep a Bible on their desk or express a religious belief. That is an outrageous position, but itâs what Iâve come to expect from an administration that is aggressively hostile toward religious beliefs that it deems to be politically incorrect.
âMy amendment protects, for our men and women in uniform, a principle enshrined in our Constitution and cherished since our Founding Fathers: the free exercise of oneâs religious beliefs, includingÂ expressions of oneâs belief. It hasÂ bipartisan support and takes into account the unique context of military service, accommodating the beliefs of our service members, while not jeopardizing military necessity. We need to protect the free speech of the brave warriors who fight to safeguard our liberties, and I hope Congress will reject this blatant White House attack on religious freedom.â
Two House Democrats are working to build support for legislation that would streamline the process for veterans to remove the blemish on their discharge papers if they were expelled for being gay and their service wasn’t characterized as honorable.
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), one of the six openly LGB members of the U.S. House, and Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) are proposing legislation known as theÂ âRestore Honor to Service Members Act,â which would ensure veterans who were discharged for being gay would be designated with an honorable discharge.
In an interview the Washington Blade, Pocan said the bill â which has never before been introduced in Congress â would build off earlier legislative efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and help gay veterans who are unable to receive certain benefits â and rights â with their current discharge papers.
“There are still so many people out there who have served their country honorably, they still don’t have access to the GI bill or receiving veteran’s benefits,” Pocan said. “They still can’t even have a military burial ceremony. They, in some states, can’t vote or get unemployment benefits, so we just need to set up a fair process for these people. There are just too many who’ve served our country so ably and risked their lives, and we owe this to them.”
While “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was instituted in 1993, the military had a policy prior to that time in which it expelled people for being gay.Â From World War II to the repeal of âDonât Ask Donât Tellâ in 2011, an estimated 114,000 service members were discharged for being gay â more frequently with dishonorable and other than honorableÂ discharges in the period before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
In a statement, Rangel said he wanted to take part in the effort to enact a change in the policy because of his own military service.
“As an American, a congressman, and a Korean War veteran, I was proud to join my colleagues in ending the discriminatory law that previously barred open gay and lesbian soldiers from serving their country,â Rangel said. âNow is the time to finish the job and ensure that all those who served honorably are recognized for their honorable service regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Although a policy currently exists to change the designation on discharges, Pocan said he’s spoken to veterans who find the process cumbersome and are seeking a streamlined process.
“Sometimes they’ll put in, and then a couple months later, they’ll find out they need to submit something else, and a couple months later, submit something else, so they’ve had to get lawyers,” Pocan said. “We’re trying to put all of that up front so that the process will be much easier and more expedited than it currently is.”
Other aspects of the bill, according to Pocan’s office, will require the Pentagon to review the discharge review process and report on its consistency;Â provide for the collection of oral histories on the discrimination against gay troops; and repeal the still-standing section of theÂ Uniform Code of Military Justice that prohibits sodomy for both straight and gay service members.
Pocan said the bill will be introduced “likely next week” and, in the meantime, he and Rangel are looking to build Â co-sponsors. The Wisconsin lawmaker said they’re making an “extra effort” to build support among members of the House Armed Services Committee because that panel will likely have jurisdiction over the bill.
Pocan said about 30 House members are interested in being original co-sponsors of the legislation.
Asked about his plan for passing the legislation with Republicans in charge of the House, Pocan was vague about the way forward, but emphasized they’ll be talking with “partners on the outside” and the bill would be a follow-up to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“I’m hoping that since we already have it repealed, that this can gain enough support that Congress can try to lead and get it done so we can put a fair process in place for people to get rid of that old discharge recognition,” Pocan said.
Allison Herwitt, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, shared the sentiment that the legislation would build off the successful 2010 effort to repeal the military’s gay ban.
âThe repeal of âDonât Ask, Donât Tellâ was a tremendous first step in achieving equality in our nationâs armed forces,” Herwitt said. “It is important that we continue to address the discrimination that LGBT veterans face by updating their service records to reflect the reality of their service.â
A military judge on Tuesday found gay U.S. Army private Bradley Manning not guilty of aiding the enemy, the most serious charge lodged against him following allegations in 2010 that he leaked hundreds of thousands of classified military reports and diplomatic cables.
At the conclusion of a court martial proceeding that began in June at Fort Meade, Md., Army Col. Denise Lind found Manning guilty of nearly all of the other charges filed against him, including six counts of violating the U.S. Espionage Act. All of the charges stemmed from his alleged transmittal of the classified documents to the dissident, whistleblower group Wikileaks.
The verdict came after Manning pleaded guilty earlier this year to 10 of the 22 counts filed against him. Experts in military law said the charges on which he was convicted carry a combined maximum sentence of 136 years of confinement in a military prison, although they expect the judge to hand down a much shorter sentence.
Had he been convicted on the aiding-the-enemy charge, he could have faced life in prison without the possibility of parole.
LGBT activists following the Manning case dispute press reports that surfaced at the time of his arrest in 2010 that his motive for leaking the classified information was related, in part, to his anger over the militaryâs Donât Ask, Donât Tell law, which banned gays from serving openly in the armed forces.
Transgender advocates have also expressed skepticism of a claim by one of Manning’s defense attorneys that his action was due, in part, to his personal struggle over his gender identity. The attorney and others who know Manning noted that he referred to himself for a short period of time with a female name and downloaded information over the internet about gender identity disorder.
âI donât see that his identity has anything to do with what he did,â said Maryland transgender advocate Dana Beyer. âHis sexual identity, however you want to define it, is completely irrelevant.â
Beyerâs assessment appears to be shared by virtually all of the national LGBT advocacy organizations, which have either remained silent on the Manning case or have said Manningâs actions should not be condoned and donât reflect the views of the LGBT rights movement.
That view surfaced in the news in the spring of this year when the San Francisco LGBT Pride committee rejected a proposal to name Manning as a grand marshal for the cityâs Pride parade.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, the nationâs largest LGBT political organization, told the Blade this week that HRC would have no comment on the Manning verdict.
Spokespersons for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), which monitors media coverage of the LGBT community, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
D.C. gay attorney Philip Fornaci is among the small corps of LGBT activists who have joined opponents of U.S. policies in the Middle East and elsewhere that have supported Manning and helped raise money for his legal defense.
Supporters argue that Manning is a whistle blower who courageously released information showing a flawed and illegal U.S. foreign policy to enable the American public to pressure the government to change those policies.
âWhile the national LGBT advocacy organizations shamelessly shower President Obama with praise for allowing openly gay men and women to enlist in the military, their complete silence on the Manning case is indefensible,â Fornaci said in an Aug. 6, 2012 commentary in the Blade. âIf Manning did in fact leak information to Wikileaks as he is accused, he has displayed enormous courage.â
Presenting a far different perspective on Manning was R. Clarke Cooper, former executive director of the national gay group Log Cabin Republicans. Cooper, a combat veteran of the Iraq War and current civilian intelligence officer in the Army Reserves, penned a Blade commentary in December 2011 calling Manning âa traitor to the United States of America.â
Responding to early reports, which have since been disputed â that Manning might seek to use his opposition to Donât Ask, Donât Tell as a defense for leaking classified documents â Cooper called such a defense a âbetrayal of all gay and lesbian service members past and present.â
He added, âWhatever his reasons or excuses, Bradley Manning does not deserve the sympathy of the LGBT community.â
Peter Rosenstein, a gay Democratic activist and supporter of the Obama administration, expressed a similar view opposing LGBT support for Manning.
âI donât believe the fact that Manning is gay has anything to do with his case,â Rosenstein told the Blade. âWhat he did was wrong, maybe even treasonous. Making him a gay hero as they tried to do in San Francisco is absurd.â
Shortly after his 2010 arrest, the publicly viewable part of Manningâs Facebook profile listed the Washington Blade as among his âfavoriteâ pages along with several other LGBT-related websites, including the Human Rights Campaign, gay then U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and a site pushing for repeal of Donât Ask, Donât Tell.
The anti-gay Family Research Council cited reports of Manningâs backing of gay rights causes to support its strong opposition to repealing Donât Ask, Donât tell.
D.C. gay blogger John Aravosis reported that no evidence was found to show Manning leaked classified information because he was upset over Donât Ask, Donât Tell or supported gay rights.
A national group called the Bradley Manning Support Network, whose members have corresponded with Manning and members of Manningâs family, has said Manningâs motive for releasing classified documents was a desire to correct what he believed to be a harmful U.S. foreign policy.
A gay veteran of the Iraq war who fought against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has died in a car accident in Pittsford, N.Y.
Darren Manzella, who came out as gay in 2007 while serving in the Army during an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” died on Thursday at the scene of the crash. He had just turned 36 on Aug. 8.
Steve Ralls, the former spokesperson for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network who handled his public relations at the time,Â said openly gay troops currently serving around the world today are able to do so, in part, because of Darren’s sacrifice.
“Darren knew he would be discharged for speaking out, but he volunteered to do it because he wanted the men and women who followed him to be able to serve openly without fear of discharge or discrimination,” Ralls said. “That’s the kind of guy, and the kind of soldier, Darren was. I know how deeply proud his family was of him, and that pride was shared by all of us who had the privilege of working with him, too.”
Manzella served as an Army medic in Kuwait and Iraq and earnedÂ a Combat Medical BadgeÂ for treating his fellow soldiers. His “60 Minutes” interview was filmed, in secret, in Kuwait City while he was still a Staff Sergeant in the Army.
He was the first openly gay service member on active duty to speak to the press from a war zone. Months after coming out publicly, Manzella was given an honorable discharge under the military’s gay ban in 2008.
Since August 2011, Manzella had been working as a health science specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Rochester. According to his Facebook page, he very recently married his spouse, Javier Lapeira, on July 5.
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, who also faced discharge under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for being gay, knew Manzella and said he was an inspiration.
“Darren Manzella wasn’t just a hero and an inspiration to me personally, he was an American hero and a civil rights leader,” Fehrenbach said. “When my ordeal started in May 2008, I saw Darren’s interview on 60 minutes. He inspired me to speak out and tell my story. He had such a great impact in the repeal of DADT.”
Fehrenbach, who was ultimately able to stay in the Air Force before he retired on his own volition, said his friend will leave a lasting legacy.
“The only blessing is that Darren died as a soldier and a husband,” Fehrenbach said. “He was able to fulfill his dreams to serve his country openly and marry the man he loved. I will miss him dearly, and I will never forget him. He made the world a better place and he made me better and stronger for knowing him.”
The Rochester-based Democrat and Chronicle quotesÂ Michael Manzella, Darren’s father, as identifying his son as a person who was killed in the accident Thursday night.
Michael Manzella reportedly said Darren was struck by a sport utility vehicleÂ whileÂ pushing his car that was already damaged in an accident that happened immediately beforehand on Interstate 490. Michael Manzella is quoted as saying as of Friday afternoon,Â his calls to police so far haven’t been returned.
In the same report, Cpl. John Helfer of the Monroe County Sheriffâs Office reportedly confirmed an accident involving two collisions took place on Thursday that caused someone’s death. However, HelferÂ reportedly wouldn’t name the person.
HelferÂ reportedly said the incident began as a two-car crash on the westbound lanes of the highway in Pittsford, when one car sideswiped another car about 8:30 p.m. The man in the struck car stopped in the middle lane of I-490, got out and started pushing it from behind, Helfer was quoted as saying.
But a sport utility vehicle rear-ended the car, pinning the man between the two vehicles.Â The man was pronounced dead at the scene, Helfer reportedly said. The other two involved drivers were reportedly taken to Strong Memorial Hospital with minor injuries.
Lapeira told the Blade the police came to hisÂ apartment to notify him that they had found Manzella’s car and his body, which remained at the Medical Examiner in Rochester until Saturday.
“Needless to say, Darren was a hero in every sense of the word,”Â Lapeira said.Â ”Even at the moment of his death, his first instinct was to push his car off the freeway to avoid any injuries to others.”
After coming out on “60 Minutes,” Manzella was discharged months later under the military’s gay ban known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” President Obama signed legislation to repeal that law in December 2010 and lifted the ban the following year.
In January 2008, the Washington Blade published an article â the first byline in the paper for this reporter â on Manzella’s appearance on “60 Minutes” during a period of uncertainty on whether he’d be expelled from the military. After he was subsequently kicked out of the Army under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Blade followed up in July 2008 with an article on his experience.
At the time, the former soldier told the Blade during his discharge proceedingsÂ he had the opportunity to request a board to rebut statements that he made to the press. ButÂ Manzella waved this option.
âI said I wouldnât take back anything,â he said. âIt would defeat the purpose of why I participated in the ["60 Minutes"] segment. It would defeat the purpose of workingÂ with SLDN.â
The former soldier told the Blade experience of being out in the military, making media appearances and ultimately being discharged from service has made him âmuch more awareâ of his identity.
âMy belief that âDonât Ask, Donât Tellâ needs to be repealed has magnified significantly because Iâm personally affected by it now,â he said.
A public memorial service for the soldier who fought “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by coming out as gay while serving in Iraq will take place in D.C. on Thursday.
The service to honor the life of Army Staff Sergeant Darren Manzella will be held at 2 p.m. onÂ Thursday at St. Johns Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square. The address is 1525 H St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20005.
In 2007, Manzella came out as gay on “60 Minutes” in protest of the military’s gay ban known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and was expelled under the policy in the next year. President Obama signed legislation in 2010 to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and lifted the policy in 2011.
At age 36, ManzellaÂ died in a traffic accident in Pittsford, N.Y. He’s survived by his spouse,Â Javier Lapeira, whom he married on July 5.
Despite rosy pronouncements from the Obama administration and others about the supposedly smooth transition to open service in the military following the lifting of âDonât Ask, Donât Tell,â a host of new problems has emerged for gay and lesbian troops.
Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partners Association, said “there are clearly challenges that remain” for gay service members following the implementation of open service.
“These military families are still facing challenges that need to be addressed sooner rather than later,” Peters said. “All they are asking for is to be treated the same way as their counterparts â simple equality, no more and no less.”
In the past week, attention has focused on state national guard units refusing to process spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages; an Army base having to make special arrangements for chaplains to accommodate a lesbian couple; gay veterans not receiving benefits in non-marriage equality states; and the condition for gay cadets at the Air Force Academy, where a practitioner of “ex-gay” conversion therapy holds a leadership role.
Nat’l Guards refusing benefits for gay troops
Several state national guards continue to refuse to process spousal benefit applications for troops in same-sex marriages, citing state constitutional amendments banning gay nuptials. This comes after an edict from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel saying he’s directed the National Guard Bureau to ensure the guards follow Pentagon policy to provide these benefits everywhere in the wake of the Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.
One state that has received significant attention is Oklahoma, where Gov. Mary Fallin on Nov. 6 ordered her national guard facilities to stop processing benefits altogether and directed all couples â gay and straight â to federal installations within her state to apply for benefits.
“Oklahoma law is clear,â Fallin said. âThe state of Oklahoma does not recognize same-sex marriages, nor does it confer marriage benefits to same-sex couples. The decision reached today allows the National Guard to obey Oklahoma law without violating federal rules or policies.”
Like other states, Fallin cited a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage or conferral of spousal benefits to gay couples. In the case of Oklahoma, voters approved an amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2004 by 75 percent of the popular vote.
According to the National Guard Bureau, a total of five states are not complying with the edict: Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana and South Carolina. The list omits Oklahoma, but the Guard wouldn’t respond to a request for comment on why the state isn’t included.
These states maintain only the processing of same-sex benefit applications is being denied, so once these troops are enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, they’d be able to receive them wherever their assignment. However, LGBT advocates have said participation by same-sex couples in national guard activities, such as “Strong Bonds” retreats for married couples, is threatened by these states’ decisions.
Although the Pentagon has threatened additional action if these states refuse to comply with the Defense Department directive on benefits, a Defense official wouldn’t speculate as to what this action would be.
“These are federal ID cards paid for with federal funding to provide federally mandated benefits,” the official said. “The Secretary has directed General Grass to resolve this issue with the TAGs. We’re not going to speculate on legal options at this time.”
Some ideas that have been speculated include a lawsuit against these states, deprivation of federal funds or federalization of these guards by President Obama.
Gay veterans not receiving spousal benefits
Also gaining attention in recent weeks is the inability of gay veterans to obtain certain spousal benefits if they live in a non-marriage equality state.
Even though the Supreme Court struck down part of DOMA, Section 103(c) of Title 38 looks to the state of residence, not the state of celebration, in determining whether a couple is married. That means that gay veterans who marry their same-sex partner in one state and move to another that doesn’t recognize their marriage can’t apply for benefits while living in that state.
Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the highest-ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress, last week introduced a bill that would change Title 38 to enable benefits to flow to gay married veterans no matter where they live.
Joining him as original co-sponsors for the bill, known as the Protecting the Freedoms and Benefits for All Veterans Act, were gay Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Reps. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).
In an interview with the Blade, Takano said the legislation is a “backup” plan should the Obama administration decide it must continue enforcing the marriage state of residency statute even after the Supreme Court ruling against DOMA.
“We are not 100 percent sure whether the administration will or is able at this point to do that,” Takano said. “We’re introducing this legislation as a backup. We’re not finding fault with the administration; it’s just that it came to the attention of committee staff and the Equality Caucus in the Congress that this is a potential issue, and so we wanted to make sure that we drop along with the necessary Republicans and Democratic co-sponsors.”
Calls on the Obama administration to stop enforcing the state of residency statute under Title 38 in the wake of the court ruling against DOMA have previously come from Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who has called on the administration to stop enforcing the statute until a legislative fix happens.
Chaplains can’t accommodate gay couple on retreat
The issue of chaplains not being able to accommodate same-sex couples at “Strong Bonds” retreats run by the U.S. Army Chaplain’s Corps for members of the national guard has also emerged as an issue.
Last week, the American Military Partners Association issued a news release saying that a lesbian U.S. soldier, whose named wasn’t disclosed, and her same-sex spouse, Shakera Leigh Halford, were denied access to a retreat at Fort Irwin in California.
After the story generated media attention, the public affairs team at Fort Irwin shot back by insisting the couple wasn’t denied access, and instead the chaplains at the base had sought to find other chaplains to make accommodations.
Pamela Portland, a spokesperson for Fort Irwin, confirmed that account for the Washington Blade, saying chaplains had sought to find an appropriate person to make the accommodation following a Nov. 7 meeting between couples and the commanding general â even before the news story broke.
“We have eight chaplains here at Fort Irwin,” Portland said, “and they were restricted by their religious affiliation, they could not move ahead, but they immediately went out to find someone who could.”
Still, in a statement from the American Military Partners Association that followed, Halford decried the notion that she and her spouse required special arrangements.
“It makes the whole thing very awkward and embarrassing,” Halford said. “Why canât we just be another couple at the retreat, like everyone else? Why do we have to have special arrangements?â
Air Force Academy hires ‘ex-gay’ advocate
Finally, the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., has received criticism after AMERICAblog first reported that Mike Rosebush, an advocate of widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy, was hired by the Academy to oversee its character coaching program.
As AMERICAblog’s editor John Aravosis points out on his blog, Rosebush served as a clinical member of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, a fringe group that advocates for “ex-gay” therapy, and as a vice president of the anti-gay Focus on the Family.
“Rosebushâs entire career for the past two decades has been devoted to ‘curing’ gay people of what he clearly deems a problem, and what his former employers consider an illness and a depravity,” Aravosis writes. “How then could Rosebush not include a discussion of sexual orientation in his character and leadership coaching at the US Air Force Academy?”
During a conference call with reporters last week, the Air Force Academy presented three gay cadets at the Academy in an attempt to dispel the notion the Academy fostered an anti-gay atmosphere.
While presenting a general sense of acceptance, the cadets reportedly acknowledged they did face issues at the academy, but they had been addressed. To the consternation of reporters on the call, the Academy wouldn’t go into the nature of the issues, citing privacy concerns.
The presence of Rosebush at the academy inspired a response from the American Military Partners Association and the Human Rights Campaign, which both called for the removal of the “ex-gay” practitioner from the school.
“Itâs stunning that Air Force Academy officials think itâs even remotely appropriate to have someone like Mike Rosebush in a leadership position,â HRC’s Fred Sainz said. âWhile itâs positive that some cadets feel the culture at the Academy is welcoming to openly LGB people, itâs undeniable that Mike Rosebushâs toxic views send a harmful message that there is something fundamentally wrong with being gay.”
In addition to these problems, other issues remain unresolved, such as the inability of transgender service members to serve openly in the military.
AMPA’s Peters said one pathway to accommodate many of the problems faced by gay service members is the codification of an explicit non-discrimination clause in the military’s equal opportunity policy â a request the Pentagon has repeatedly rebuffed.
“A reliable and trustworthy system must be in place to address incidents of inappropriate discrimination against gay and lesbian service members and to foster command climates that are supportive of all military families,” Peters said. “Inclusion of orientation in the non-discrimination policy would send a strong message that all service members, regardless of their sexual orientation or the gender of their spouse, deserve fair and equal treatment.”
Marc Mazzone, a spokesperson for the LGBT military group SPART*A, said new issues are entering the public dialogue following repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Supreme Court decision against DOMA.
“The recent news gives a very loud and clear message we are moving into a dialogue on how to battle discrimination in its newest forms throughout the military, and we will be working to find a strong resolution to these problems to ensure all service members and spouses receive fair and equal treatment and benefits they are entitled to,” Mazzone said.
UPDATE: Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, responded to the Blade’s request to comment on the issues facing gay service members in the post-”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” after the posting of this article.
“The President remains proud of the repeal of ‘Donât Ask, Donât Tell,’ which has strengthened our national security and upholds the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend,” Inouye said. “We are confident that the Department, under Secretary Hagelâs leadership, will ensure that all service members are treated with dignity and respect.”