Navy says ensign from E. Texas suffered unfair retaliation over anti-gay harassment complaint

A while back we told you about Steve Crowston, the Navy ensign from East Texas who accused his commanders of anti-gay harassment after he received a list of potential call signs that included “Romo’s Bitch,” “Gay Boy,” “Fagmeister” and “Cowgirl.”

Over the weekend, Crowston sent along word that he’d won a victory in his case.

According to Fox News, the Navy’s Inspector General has ruled that Crowston suffered unfair retaliation after filing a complaint about the harassment, in the form of a bad performance evaluation:

Crowston’s complaint named Commander Liam Bruen, 42, who gave the 37-year-old ensign “the “the worst performance appraisal” in his 16 years of service.

The Navy now says at least one of Crowston’s complaints has been confirmed.

“Department of Navy Naval IG substantiates the allegation that the then commanding officer of VFA 136 gave Crowston an unfavorable fitness report in reprisal for a sexual harassment and hostile work environment complaint he filed,” Navy spokesman Lt. Myers Vasquez told FoxNews.com. The Navy did not name Bruen, but FoxNews.com has independently confirmed his identity.

Vasquez said the department has forwarded its findings on to Bruen’s commanding officer, who will decide what, if any, corrective action to take.

Former Judge Advocate General Jeff Addicott says Bruen’s commander will have little choice but to take strong action.

The story goes on to say that the Navy’s investigation of Crowston’s original complaint is ongoing, and no action will be taken against Bruen until it’s complete.

UPDATE: Here’s a statement we just received from Crowston:

“I’m very pleased to see the system get it right with the reprisal investigation. The system needs to get it right the 2nd time around regarding the anti-gay harassment. It should not take this much effort to have what was clearly anti-gay harassment and hazing by senior Navy leadership be substantiated. I hope my efforts in seeking justice will inspire others out there who have been discriminated against because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Adults can not continue to allow anti-gay harassment and bigotry to occur. We, as adults, must show our children that they are individuals who are allowed to live in America without being prejudiced against, retaliated against, or harassed because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Hatred is not okay.”

—  John Wright

Raunchy videos point to bigger problems in Navy, says ensign who alleged anti-gay harassment

Steve Crowston

We received a note Monday night from Steve Crowston, the Navy ensign from East Texas whose allegations of anti-gay harassment against his military superiors remain under investigation by the Inspector General’s Office. But Crowston wasn’t writing to give us an update on his case, which we wrote about back in September. Instead, he wanted to point out some apparent links between his allegations and the lewd video controversy involving Capt. Owen Honors, who earlier today was permanently relieved of his command. Crowston says members of his squadron — who are accused of hazing him with call signs including “Romo’s bitch,” “Gay Boy,” “Fagmeister” and “Cowgirl” — were on board the USS Enterprise when Honors showed the lewd videos. He also says his former commanding officer came up the ranks in the aviation community with Honors. “The Navy has a serious problem on its hands with the aviation community …” Crowston says. Here’s his e-mail:

My former squadron VFA-136 is assigned to the USS ENTERPRISE.  When the aircraft carrier gets ready for deployment and deploys, pilots from VFA-136 are on board the ship. The pilots from VFA-136 would have been on board during the time frame of these videos shot by Captain Honors who was then the XO of the aircraft carrier.

Captain Honors and my former CO from VFA-136 (Commander Liam Bruen) are both F-14 Tomcat pilots who came up the ranks in the aviation community together. Can you tell the CO of my squadron and the CO of the ENTERPRISE act similar as evidenced by their inappropriate behavior! The Navy has a serious problem on its hands with the aviation community, as evidenced by my case with Commander Bruen as CO and Commander Christopher now as the CO of VFA-136 and now Captain Honors, who was then the XO when these videos were shot. Unbelievable!

—  John Wright

Navy ensign from East Texas fights anti-gay harassment by superiors

No charges in recent death threat against Steve Crowston, who filed complaint after receiving ‘Romo’s bitch’ call sign from squadron

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

COWBOYS FAN  |  Dallas Cowboys fan and Navy Ensign Steve Crowston is fighting what he says has been anti-gay harassment by his colleagues and commanders. Crowston, who won’t discuss his sexual orientation, was given the call sign “Romo’s Bitch” by those in his squadron. It was one of several call signs suggested by his colleagues. Others included “Fagmeister” and “Gay Boy.”
COWBOYS FAN | Dallas Cowboys fan and Navy Ensign Steve Crowston is fighting what he says has been anti-gay harassment by his colleagues and commanders. Crowston, who won’t discuss his sexual orientation, was given the call sign “Romo’s Bitch” by those in his squadron. It was one of several call signs suggested by his colleagues. Others included “Fagmeister” and “Gay Boy.”

Navy Ensign Steve Crowston, the East Texas native who’s made headlines of late with claims of anti-gay harassment by his military superiors, says he learned this week that federal authorities don’t plan to file charges against a Dallas man who made a possible death threat against him on the Internet in August.

Crowston, 36, said the Navy Criminal Investigative Service informed him Tuesday, Sept. 7 that federal authorities in Texas don’t plan to pursue the case. The unidentified Dallas-based suspect reportedly made the threat in response to media coverage of Crowston’s harassment allegations, which are currently being investigated by the Navy Inspector General.

The suspect, using the name “Flugelman,” posted a photo of a naked man tied to a “Tree of Woe” on a Naval Aviation-themed website called AirWarriors.com. The caption read, “Send Fagmiester back to the Goatlocker. We’ll take care of him/her/it.”

The “Tree of Woe” is an apparent reference to a tree the lead character was to be crucified on in the film “Conan the Barbarian;” “goatlocker” refers to the fraternity of Navy chiefs; and “Fagmeister” was among the anti-gay call signs members of Crowston’s squadron recommended for him during a meeting in August 2009, prompting the harassment allegations.

“The guy obviously has issues with people who are perceived to be gay,” Crowston said of the man who made the threat. “My big concern was the safety of my family back there [in Texas].”

Crowston said he plans to take up the matter with the office of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas didn’t return a phone call seeking comment about the investigation into the threat.

Crowston, who refuses to disclose his sexual orientation, told Dallas Voice he grew up in East Texas and lived in Mesquite for a few years before joining the Navy in the mid-1990s. Currently based in Virginia Beach, Va., Crowston plans to return to Dallas when he retires from the military in four years.

Crowston is an avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys, which led to his being given the call sign “Romo’s bitch” in a vote by members of Strike Fighter Squadron 136 last year.

But Crowston said “Romo’s bitch” isn’t what bothered him; it was the other call signs that had been recommended and written on a white board in the meeting room, which included “Gay Boy,” “Fagmeister” and “Cowgirl.”

Those who voted on Crowston’s call sign included the squadron’s commanding and executive officers.

Crowston’s case has drawn attention in particular to the problem of offensive and inappropriate call signs, which can be used in official military correspondence and tend to follow someone throughout their career.

Crowston, who’d recently lost a friend to suicide following harassment in the Navy, took his concerns about the call sign incident to his superiors.

He said they retaliated by launching investigations of him and giving him his worst performance review in 16 years in the Navy. He said he endured months of harassment before filing a complaint in February.

The Naval Inspector General’s Office initially found Crowston’s complaint to be unsubstantiated. But Crowston has taken his fight to the Pentagon and Congress, alleging that the investigator was biased because she knew one of the commanding officers he’d named.

Last month, the Navy Inspector General announced it was reopening the case and launching an investigation into how it was initially handled.

“What I’m doing is I’m standing up for my rights, and I’m hoping it will make a difference for myself and others in the military,” Crowston said.

He pointed to the case of Army infantryman Barry Winchell, who was murdered by a fellow soldier in 1999 pursuant to anti-gay harassment.

“The law says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t harass and don’t pursue,’” Crowston said. “Why is it that we have senior leadership in the Navy still to this day violating the ‘don’t harass’ policy?”

Servicemembers who are gay or perceived to be gay usually don’t report harassment because they fear being outed under DADT, Crowston said.

Aaron Tax, legal director for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, agreed.

“It’s very difficult under ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ to safely report harassment and not run afoul of the law, and I think a case like this highlights that,” said Tax, adding that SLDN has been monitoring Crowston’s case.

SLDN is a group dedicated to ending discrimination and harassment against military personnel affected by DADT.

Tax said legislation to repeal DADT originally included a provision that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in the military.

But this provision isn’t contained in the version that passed the House earlier this year, which is expected to be voted on by the Senate later this month.

“Even with repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell,’ there will still be a need for strong leadership and comprehensive training to make sure people are not harassed on the basis of their actual or perceived sexual orientation,” Tax said. “What we’re hoping is that President Obama will step up to the plate, and should we get repeal passed by Congress this year, that he will step up to the plate and sign an executive order that once and for all eliminates discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the military.”

Crowston, meanwhile, is awaiting the outcome of the Inspector General’s investigation and plans to continue his battle.

“I’m not going to back down,” he said. “I’m concerned about my safety of course, but I’m going to live my life. To be an activist you’ve got to take a stand. This isn’t about just me.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas