Monday, June 29, 2009

This is NOT a confidentiality issue...

because I'm not going to talk about people, except generally. But it's an issue about which confidentiality and controversy swirl: Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's the dubious policy of the U.S. Armed Forces, whose unintended consequences have resulted in witchhunts in our military units. It is against military law to do anything which would indicate that a person is homosexual and it is alsoagainst military law to ask if a person is homosexual. So all kinds of subterfuge occur to get around this policy and harass people for their sexual orientation.

Last night I sat and listened to a seasoned veteran of our armed forces give advice to men and women who are gay or lesbian and in the military. It was chilling, especially to hear the tactics used by some in the military to "out" gay and lesbian servicemembers. These tactics amount to stalking, in my opinion, and the personal stories shared included being together as a couple two hours away from the military base and suddenly being joined by a group of military colleagues who just happened to be in the same place at the same time.

Or being asked repeatedly by a member of the opposite sex why s/he won't date a man/woman. Or being sexually harassed and told "you and your partner just come with us and we'll show you what really works". Or being photographed in a public place with one's partner whose looks seem to indicate gayness. Or having one's personal room on the base searched by "superiors" looking for evidence, on the grounds that "everything on the base belongs to the military".

Men and women who have served our country well and who wish to continue to serve our country are being hounded out of the military in droves and by devious and cruel tactics. I heard references to women being raped "to show them how real sex should be", to people being injured by apparently deliberate actions of a colleague in order to get information, even to a killing that may have occurred because of hatred toward her for her lesbianism.

If a servicemember objects to this kind of treatment, that's further evidence, in the eyes of the military. If a servicemember lies about his/her sexuality, that's further evidence and, additionally, it's illegal to lie about it. It is against military law to live as a domestic partner, to marry one's partner, to acknowledge one's sexual orientation or engage in any physical affection with a member of the same sex.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network was formed to offer legal and moral assistance to servicemembers who are faced with this kind of career-busting treatment. No homosexual person in the military is safe, because once the authorities have homed in on someone, they may promise to drop all charges in exchange for the names of other gays and lesbian servicemembers. This is a false promise, because to drop charges in this situation would be illegal.

Even if one's commanding officer is gay or lesbian and seems to be in a protective position, s/he is not, for the officer is him/herself in danger and can be discharged as well. One's only hope seems to be for an honorable discharge at this point, as a known gay person is out, no matter what, it appears.

Hounding gays and lesbians out of the military certainly seems counterproductive for our nation, seeing as how we are hard-pressed to muster enough volunteers already. And the secrecy engendered by DADT leads to cruel and inhumane treatment of good people by people who are threatened by homosexuality. And, like the proverbial butterfly on a pin, the good people have no recourse except to put up with it, leave their careers, or die.

Excuse me while I write President Obama. I'll let you know if I hear something back. While we're at it, why don't you write something too? Our bglt friends and neighbors and the defenders of our country need us to help.

UPDATE: I have posted my letter to President Obama in the comments section of this post.


Bill Baar said...

Gay activists would do themselves a big favor coming out in support of ROTC on campus (and then asking why they can't join).

I wish they would do that.

Chalicechick said...

More importantly to me, since I'm interested in law, is the fact that in some cases (notably braschi v. stahl out of NYC*) the fact that a gay couple has ACTED like a family has lead to the courts being willing to TREAT them like a family

Kinda hard to act like a family when you're not telling.


*Gay man gets rent-controlled apartment in New York City. Partner moves in. They live together happily for 18 years. Gay man on the lease dies. Partner wants to be considered a member of the gay man's "family" for the purpose of continuing the rent control. The court looks at the fact that they have lived as a couple, socialized as a couple, visited one another's families as a couple, etc, for two decades as gives the partner the family exception.

ms. kitty said...

Dear President Obama,

Thank you for all the positive changes you have brought to the United States in the short time you have been our President. I am grateful for the wisdom you bring to your office, the optimism and courage you show under dire conditions in the world, and the strength of character you display when confronted by those who disagree with you.
I am writing to bring to your attention a matter that is affecting many of your most ardent supporters----gay and lesbian service members who are doing the important work of protecting our country and yet are in fear for their safety because of the “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” policy and its oppressive laws.
DADT was partially enacted to protect gay and lesbian service members from being unfairly discharged because of their sexual orientation. However, the unintended consequence of this policy has been to encourage devious behavior on the part of those who fear homosexuality, in an effort to drive gays and lesbians out of the armed forces.
I am a Unitarian Universalist minister on Whidbey Island, where we have a Naval Air Base. I am personally acquainted with service members on that airbase who fear for their careers and their physical safety because of their sexual orientation, who are harassed sexually and physically in order to get them to admit their sexual orientation or to catch them in a compromising position. They live in fear every day that they will be discovered doing something that will reveal their sexual orientation. And these “somethings” are actions that you and I take for granted---hugging a friend, being with a gay/lesbian friend, a bumper sticker, a hair style, a chance remark.
How soon will you be changing this oppressive and demeaning policy? I’m sure it’s tempting to let Congress deal with it, but as you wait, good women and men are being physically and sexually harassed, even raped and injured, in order to drive them out of the military. This isn’t right. This isn’t indicative of your avowed support of sexual minorities.
I hope to learn any day now that you have set aside this policy and have taken steps to end the harassment and even what might be called stalking of gay and lesbian service members.


Rev. Elizabeth Ketcham, Minister

Bill Baar said...

I hope you know what you're doing here.

If you know of this: good women and men are being physically and sexually harassed, even raped and injured, it's a crime, and you're supposed to report it.

The Military deals harshly with this. Write a letter to Obama, but you should call NIS too, because Obama darn will should.

Bill Baar said...

...but as you wait, good women and men are being physically and sexually harassed, even raped and injured, in order to drive them out of the military.

PS You can bet the commander's career is toast if an accusation like this found true. Even it it's not true and just talk around base his or hers career could be toast.

ms. kitty said...

Bill, this is not safe for them. Here is what the SLDN has to say about sexual harassment:
2. Harassment
Another major reason cited by gay service members for “com-
ing out” is to escape anti-gay threats and harassment, or
because gay service members find they are unable to serve in a
homophobic environment. While recognizing that anti-gay
harassment undermines unit cohesion and combat readiness,
the military has been inconsistent in taking action to end anti-
gay harassment, hold harassers accountable and address the
wide-spread tolerance of anti-gay comments, slurs and
"jokes." For further information on dealing with harassment,
please see the section on “Harassment” earlier in this Guide.

As is common across segments of our society, there is often no such recourse for someone who has been raped or injured or harassed because of an identity, whether that's a sexual orientation or gender identity or racial identity.

So it's not as clearcut as it might appear to you. And if I were to report something like this, it would be useless without the names, which I am not willing to give out, as it could result in immediate ejection from the military, according to the authority we talked with last night, who knows what she's talking about---Grethe Cammermeyer.

Bill Baar said...

Ms Kitty,

Your claiming physical abuse and rape of service members. You're obligated to report,

NCISRA Whidbey Island
NAS Whidbey Island
975 West Forrestal Street
Oak Harbor, WA 98278-4400
Telephone: (360) 257-3359
DSN 820-3359

What you describe is similar to what almost destroyed FDR's career in 1919 at Newport RI when the Navy used decoys to out homosexuals.

You've claimed some hard crimes here. You're obligated to notify NCIS. Rape is rape... it's that simple. I don't know if you're claiming some kind of pastoral privilege here, but you're obligated to ACT, I believe; by any American's standard.

ms. kitty said...

I don't have enough information to report, Bill. And I refuse to name the ones who do have it.

Joel said...

If these things are true, they're shameful and something needs to be done. Surely servicepeople have better things to do than stalking and outing their comrades in arms. DADT was meant to protect both individual servicemembers and the necessary cohesion of a military unit.

I think the president would have a great deal of trouble finding a better compromise than DADT, and if he were to try to force through an uncompromising policy, he would erase whatever support he currently enjoys with the military. He's already got the twin strikes against him of being (a) a Democrat in charge of a heavily Republican-leaning military and (b) more importantly, not a veteran himself. Trying to force a change in the prevailing culture would erode what support he has. As commander in chief he would still be obeyed, but he would have a lot of difficulty getting more than mere obedience.

I would question whether this is within his direct authority at all. I'm not sure if the C-in-C can actually mandate such policies in peacetime. Maybe he can; I don't know.

In any case, cases of harassment need to be reported and dealt with straightforwardly (no pun intended), no matter who is being harassed. I think the culture will probably shift of its own accord, as homosexuality is more accepted in society at large than it was even when DADT was enacted. The more straight servicemembers get used to serving with gay ones, the less importance they'll place on the "ick" factor that is at the root of their reactions. In-your-face activism will only generate antipathy among the vast majority of servicepeople who are straight. I don't often approve of President Obama's actions, but I think he may be doing the right thing by leaving it alone. He stands to make it a lot worse.

Bill Baar said...

I don't have enough information to report, Bill. And I refuse to name the ones who do have it.

You have enough to write the President and he should act because you've described serious crimes.

I have kids from my Church with the Coast Guard in the Pacific NorthWest on top of it. So I do I face the mom at Church knowing this nugget here?

SecNav doesn't treat this as a joke. It's not a policy question. You have described crimes. Felonies...for which those convicted will do hard labor for a very long time... that's still part of the sentencing in the Military.

ms. kitty said...

Bill, I completely agree that these are serious crimes and I would report them under other circumstances, but I can't think of a compassionate way to do so. I can't think of a way that I could ask the two people in my church to give me that information so that I could turn the perpetrators in, without betraying their trust and revealing their sexual orientation. How would you do it, if you were me?

Bill Baar said...

You already have reported Ms Kitty. You wrote a letter to the Commander in Chief (Obama) that you have knowledge of felonies that occurred and may be ongoing at NAS Widbey.

You also made your letter public on the net.

So now it's a question of how the investigation proceeds and what the rules are for what privleges you've claimed.

If I have knowledge of a crime, I report it first to the police.

You need to talk to your lawyer.. seriously.

ms. kitty said...

Guess I'll see how things proceed. Civil disobedience is never an easy road to take. I'd be interested in how CC sees it.

ms. kitty said...

In addition, Bill, I know that these crimes have already been reported. I guess you're jumping to the conclusion that they have not been reported previously. I do not know the outcome of the complaint.

Joel said...

I would be inclined to question the veracity of a claim that there are actual rapes and felonious assaults going unreported. I can't imagine that a serviceperson would be ejected for reporting something like that. I think it's more likely that these stories are being fabricated for political reasons. It's very easy, after all, to claim atrocities when there's no paper trail.

But that's really beside the point. There's no place for even simple harassment. The bottom line is, there are gay people in the service, and the rest of their comrades are going to have to get used to that fact. (In turn, gay members are going to have to accept that the prevailing military culture is heterosexually masculine and they won't always feel completely at home.) DADT was supposed to prevent harassment, but if it's not enforced fairly, then it's useless.

Chalicechick said...

I don't know much about the military.

But I have to say that given what this lady has gone through,

I can't say I have a lot of faith. Admittedly, that's not the military, that's the department of Justice, but still.

Also, the Happy Feminist's story about how the military treated rape allegations is, I concede, 40 years old, but I am AMAZED if there aren't still quite a few people who see things as her Dad did:

(there's quite a debate about that in the comments, and one guy who says the military is getting better. But still...)


ms. kitty said...

Interesting, CC, thanks.

ms. kitty said...

Joel and Bill, I would find your comments more credible if you had personally experienced rape, sexual harassment, or feared for your safety because of your sexual orientation.

I think some crimes must be dealt with by the letter of the law; others must be dealt with by the spirit of the law.

Both of you appear to have pretty rigorous interpretations of the law, which is appropriate in many situations. However, I believe a more compassionate interpretation is in order in these situations.

End of conversation. No more comments will be published.