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

Gay candidate for Kansas Legislature receives death threat

Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. — An openly gay Democratic candidate for the Kansas Legislature says he received a death threat containing anti-gay slurs.

Dan Manning of Wichita says he found the threat on his front door Saturday afternoon, Aug. 21 after returning from work. He says it contained cut-out words and letters from a newspaper, including “Kill” and “Will die,” as well as homophobic comments.

Manning, a West Point graduate who served in the U.S. Army, says he notified Wichita police, who are investigating. He says the note scared him, but also strengthened his resolve to run.

Manning faces Republican state Rep. Brenda Landwehr in the Nov. 2 election. Landwehr condemned the death threat, saying such actions have no place in America.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that Manning says his sexual orientation hasn’t been an issue with voters he has spoken with in his campaigning.

—  John Wright