‘Perform or provide’

DADT repeal gives progressive chaplains a chance to counter evangelical clergy in the military

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CATCH-ALL CHAPLAIN | Chaplain Chris Antal (Lt.) attended the meeting of the Forum on Military Chaplaincy at Cathedral of Hope in October. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com
When a soldier recently came to Chaplain Chris Antal, a lieutenant in the Army National Guard in New York and a Unitarian Universalist minister, and asked if he’d pray with her even though she was a pagan, he said he replied, “Of course I will, but you’ll have to show me how.”

Several weeks later, when he saw her again, she told him that the day she had come to visit him, she had hit rock bottom. He had, she told him, saved her life that day.

But Antal said he was only doing his job — helping any soldier who comes to him.

“I’ve earned the nickname, the Catch-all Chaplain,” he said, explaining that it means he takes everyone the other chaplains don’t want to deal with.

Carpenter.Dodd

Capt. Tom Carpenter (ret.) and Col. Paul Dodd (ret.)

Being there to help a soldier in need is what it’s all about for a military chaplain, said Col. Paul Dodd, a retired chaplain who now lives in Austin.

“The duty of a military chaplain is to perform or provide,” said Dodd, adding that he once sponsored an Islamic conference.

Dodd said that no chaplain can perform every service needed by every member of the military. But if a chaplain can’t perform the service requested, he or she must provide that soldier with a referral to someone else who can.

Antal said that chaplains who enlisted knew what they were getting into — to some extent. But none of them really expected the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And for many, that repeal was a game changer.

In October, a group of active and retired chaplains and military personnel and other people of faith, such as the Rev. Steve Sprinkle from Brite Divinity

School in Fort Worth, met at the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope to begin looking at ways of addressing the issues that arose for military chaplains around DADT repeal.

Dave Guy Gainer said The Forum on Military Chaplaincy is not exactly new. It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.

Sprinkle said people in the Pentagon, up through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, knew about their work and considered their statements throughout the DADT repeal process.

And now, with repeal complete, the group met to “come out.” At their meeting in Dallas, forum members considered ways to become an independent organization helping to ensure newly out service members receive the pastoral care they need while serving in the military.

Susan Gore, principle of The Mentor Group and editor of the book Coming Out In Faith, moderated the Dallas conference. She said the group started with several retired military officers “who wanted to push back against the far-right skew.”

Sprinkle has been part of the forum for four years and said he was recruited to participate because of his work on hate crimes.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sprinkle said, more and more members of the Chaplain Corps have come from just one school — Liberty

University, founded by far-right evangelical Jerry Falwell. Today, Sprinkle estimated, one-third of military chaplains come from Liberty University.

“They instituted a program that barely meets minimum requirements,” he said of the evangelical school. “It’s an online course.”

And, Sprinkle said, Liberty University’s goal is to take control of the Chaplain Corps and use the military as a pool for religious recruits.

“This is fertile ground to bring people to Jesus at taxpayer expense,” said Tom Carpenter, a retired Marine captain and one of the forum’s founders.

“I’ve heard stories of them holding the hand of someone who’s dying and trying to bring them to Jesus.”

And although such actions contradict military policy, no one in the corps has been disciplined or dismissed for it.

“They give chaplains a lot of leeway,” Carpenter said.

Gainer said the military is looking for well-rounded ministers who bring experience with them to the military.

According to the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School in Fort Jackson, S.C., candidates must be endorsed by their denomination or faith group and be “sensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians who work for the Army.”

But Sprinkle said that Liberty University is transparent about its goals, and those goals do not line up.

“They’re not committed to pluralism or serving all the troops,” he said.

Gainer said that the greatest opposition to repealing DADT came from the Chaplain Corps because military chaplains answer to two groups — the military and their denomination. Those chaplains that didn’t adhere to a strict stance of maintaining the ban on gays and lesbians were threatened with losing their accreditation from their endorsing religious body — and with it their livelihood and their pensions.

But that contradicts the stated goals of the Chaplain Corps.

“Someone has to say, ‘Either you comply and serve all the troops all the time or get out,’” Sprinkle said.

Gore said that one of the goals of the newly public forum is to “rebalance the Chaplain Corps by bringing in more mainstream faiths.” She said that for many who come from more liberal traditions, questions of what’s a just war make it hard to serve in the military. Antal, for example, is one of just four Unitarian Universalists in the Chaplain Corps.

During its push for repeal of DADT, members
said, the forum had several successes working behind the scenes.

Despite the assumption of confidentiality between parishioner and clergy, that wasn’t always the case between gay soldier and chaplain. Dodd said that a number of discharges under DADT occurred after a soldier talked to a chaplain and the chaplain turned them in.

In fact, he wrote a white paper on the practice. After he submitted it, the military tightened up on chaplain confidentiality, Dodd said.

Carpenter, an attorney, wrote an amicus brief for the Log Cabin Republicans’ lawsuit against DADT. The court found in favor of declaring DADT unconstitutional, but Congress repealed the law before the decision could be enforced.

Carpenter said that the repeal allows gays and lesbians to serve with no protection. The legal decision, had it not been vacated upon repeal, would have allowed gays and lesbians to serve equally.

Now that DADT is gone, the forum is examining how to ensure LGB personnel receive the same services as other troops from chaplains.

Dodd said that right-wing chaplains charge that allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military will force them to act in ways that go against their beliefs. Some have said they would be required to perform same-sex weddings.

Dodd called that ridiculous. Chaplains are never asked to perform duties that go against their religious beliefs, he said.

“I turned down weddings,” he said. “An officer came to me who wasn’t divorced.”

He said the officer tried to pull strings and force the issue, but Dodd wasn’t going to discuss marrying someone who was still married to someone else.

“But we’re insisting chaplains have the authority, if it’s in keeping with their faith, to marry same-sex couples,” he said.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the repeal provides no family benefits. For some issues, Dodd and Carpenter suggested work-arounds.

Issuing ID cards would be extremely helpful, especially to same-sex couples with children, Carpenter said, noting that “That way either parent could get on base to get a child to the hospital.”

In another example, joint assignments can be offered at the discretion of a commanding officer, and married couples are often assigned together when they both qualify for positions that are available at the same base. Same-sex couples could be given the same priority.

As the forum looks ahead, rebalancing the Chaplain Corps with members from a more diverse background to reflect the membership of the military is a priority.

“And we need to take care of our trans brothers and sisters,” Carpenter said.

The repeal of DADT did not address any transgender issues and does not allow transgender men or women to serve in the military.

Gainer believes representatives of the forum need to sit down with far-right members of the Chaplain Corps and agree to disagree. He said that before the repeal of DADT, they talked to people at Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. While both groups testified against the repeal, they met with some success.

“The president of the VFW in Pflugerville said it was the right thing to do,” Gainer said.

That dialogue, he believed, would help chaplains perform or at least provide a useful referral, rather than doing more damage to a soldier seeking help.

Gore thought that the focus of discussion should be with the majority of chaplains “who want to do a good job and are part of the moveable middle.”

“We have to convince administrators and educators in divinity schools to encourage some of their best and brightest to serve,” Sprinkle said. “So many schools dropped what they were doing during the Vietnam era.”

Antal thinks that gays and lesbians will gain more acceptance as they tell their stories in non-confrontational settings and others see “their identity as professional service members is primary.”

While the work of the forum will concentrate on helping LGB military personnel, creating a more diverse Chaplain Corps may help a majority of service members. Recent polls show that a majority of troops find the chaplaincy irrelevant.

Sprinkle called the work of the forum a gift from the LGBT community to the nation.

“You wouldn’t think we’d be the ones opening the doors so that all troops will be served with dignity, integrity and respect,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

DADT could stay in effect through May, despite repeal

Active duty servicemember, vets say few among the rank and file care whether someone is gay, but repeal will lift the burden of secrecy

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Even though the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed in December, remains in place until military are able to decide how best to implement repeal and what benefits will be offered to spouses of gay and lesbian military personnel.

Defense Undersecretary Clifford Stanley and Gen. James Cartwright held a press conference Friday, Jan, 28, at the Pentagon to give the first report on progress toward implementation, offering only a hint of an actual schedule. They said then that training is set to begin in February and should take three months.

Under those conditions, DADT will remain in effect at least until May, and gay and lesbians servicemembers can still be discharged under the policy.

In January, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued the report Military Personnel: Personnel and Cost Data Associated with Implementing DOD’s Homosexual Conduct Policy evaluating the cost DADT has had on the military.

Over the past five years 3,664 people have been discharged under DADT at an average cost of $52,800 per dismissal.

Jeffrey S., an airman first class based at Beale Air Force Base in Northern California, said that from his experience, recent discharges under DADT involved people the armed forces were trying to get rid of for other reasons as well.

(Because DADT is still in effect and, according to Stanley, new cases continue to be processed under the law, the airman’s name and the names of over gay servicemembers interviewed for this article have been disguised to the extent he requested.)

Jeffrey said that since graduating from basic training, he has lived fairly openly in the Air Force. The GAO report shows, however, that almost three-quarters of all DADT discharges were from the Army and Navy.

Jeffrey also said that he was trained for specific technical duties and would be hard to replace. But that hasn’t stopped discharges from other branches where service members were pursued despite their language specialties and other skills. The report indicates that of the total number of people dismissed under DADT over the past five years, 39 percent had critical occupations.

The statistics do indicate that many who were separated from the service had additional issues. Only 57 percent of those released during that period received an honorable discharge.

The other 1,580 service members were given a general discharge or worse, indicating additional situations, whether real or trumped up.

Sean T. was recently honorably discharged from the Army after serving five years, including two tours of duty in Iraq. He had been based at Fort Hood in Texas during part of his enlistment. But after not finding a civilian job, Sean is trying to reenlist and is currently in the Army Reserves.

He said his sexual orientation is more of an issue in the Reserves than in his Army unit. He knew a number of other gay soldiers while serving and no one he knew personally were discharged under DADT.

“There were usually other reasons,” he said of those he had heard were discharged under DADT. “Patterns of misconduct.”

In his Jan. 25 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said, “Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.”

At the press conference Cartwright said that they learned from the experience of other military organizations that began allowing gays and lesbians to serve, faster integration was better.

Jeffrey said he has seen little opposition among enlisted personnel. But, he said, one person in his unit did not re-enlist because of the DADT repeal. Others, though, simply didn’t care, Jeffrey said.

Sean said that he felt the least amount of pressure from DADT while in Iraq.

“It wasn’t an issue because you deploy with people you’ve known for a long time,” he said. “It’s more like family.”

Before the repeal is implemented, Cartwright said, most troops will have to complete a training session.

Jeffrey said his understanding was that the training would be a sort of sensitivity class. While attitudes couldn’t be changed during a short session, Jeffrey said he expects the sessions to enumerate forms of inappropriate speech.

Service members are written up for using racial epithets, for example, and Jeffrey said he assumes the same would happen after the repeal is in effect.

But while attitudes might not change, respect between service members could be expected and required.

The vote on the repeal was delayed more than six months in the Senate while the military studied a variety of related issues, including spousal benefits. Studies delayed implementation again after the repeal was signed.

But Stanley announced that no partner benefits would be offered, citing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex couples.

Sean, who has a partner, wants to re-enlist despite the lack of benefits and recognition of his partner.

“They’ll come eventually,” he said.

Among military personnel, the most vocal opposition to repeal of DADT was among the chaplain corps. Cartwright said no changes in rules would apply to chaplains.

Jeffrey said that he believed most military chaplains would be professional enough to refer someone that they couldn’t help to someone else. He said it was unthinkable, however, for a chaplain to turn someone away because of that person’s race or religion, and he believes a chaplain who couldn’t be professional with gay and lesbian service members might not belong in the military.

“They should be required to serve everybody,” Jeffrey said.

In an odd twist of the regulations, the decision to not change any rules for the chaplains might require them to do just that.

As bad as DADT has been for some, several retired military personnel said the previous policy was worse.

“I was paranoid about a dishonorable discharge,” said Jim from Phoenix, a gay veteran who was stationed at Fort Bragg. He was honorably discharged in Jan. 1990, three years before DADT was adopted.

While serving, he said he had one member of his unit that was quite flamboyant.

“Everybody liked the guy,” he said. “It’s more of a problem with politicians and with the higher ups.”

But those who weren’t liked were referred for dishonorable discharge for lying on their service applications.

Bill Royal, another veteran, said, “Most people on active duty don’t care.”

He said he believes the military brass disliked the change because it was one less way they could control those under them.

But even Jeffrey, who said he has had little problem with people around him knowing his sexual orientation, said the repeal would be a big relief.

“The threat of losing my job will be gone,” he said. “If somebody asks, I can say I’m gay. I can be myself. I don’t have to worry about keeping things secret. Integrity is a core value and I don’t like having to lie.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Discharges Under DADT On Steady Decline, For Now

Soldiersvintage Despite intensified political debate over Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the number of discharges for openly gay and lesbian military personnel has been free falling since 2002, say Pentagon and independent analysts. And this year's tally may be the lowest since the DADT went into law in 1993.

"Overall, the number of discharges for 2010 is likely to be considerably lower than last year, when an estimated 428 military personnel were kicked out under the law," the LA Times reports. "As a result, some believe that even if Congress does not rescind the statute this year, the law's impact will continue to shrink."

The Pentagon also pointed out that no one has been fired since Obama in October declared senior Defense Department officials must sign off on DADT proceedings.

Even still, as long as Don't Ask, Don't Tell exists, gay and lesbian soldiers will be forced to fight under threat of removal. And who knows how a future president would implement the law?


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Pentagon: No gays were discharged in past month

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — No U.S. service members have been discharged for being openly gay in the month since the Defense Department adopted new rules surrounding the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, a Pentagon spokeswoman said Monday, Nov. 22.

Under new rules adopted Oct. 21, Defense Secretary Robert Gates put authority for signing off on dismissals in the hands of the three service secretaries.

Before then, any commanding officer at a rank equivalent to a one-star general could discharge gay enlisted personnel under the 1993 law that prohibits gays from serving openly in uniform.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told The Associated Press that no discharges have been approved since Oct. 21.

Smith did not know if the absence of recent discharges was related to the new separation procedures. The Pentagon has not compiled monthly discharge figures for any other months this year, she said.

Based on historical trends, however, it appears the change, as well as moves by Gates and President Barack Obama to get Congress to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” has caused discharge rates to fall dramatically, said Aaron Belkin, executive director of Palm Center, a pro-repeal think tank based at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“Statistically, it would be extremely unlikely if we had a month in which there were no gay discharges,” Belkin said, noting that 428 gay and lesbian service members were honorably discharged under the ban in 2009.

A month without “don’t ask, don’t tell” discharges was welcome news, said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Still, the organization continues to hear daily from military personnel who are under investigation for being gay and face the possibility of being fired.

“We have clients who are still under investigation, who are still having to respond, and in fact we have a client under investigation right now under suicide watch,” Sarvis said. “So ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ has not gone away.”

Gates announced the change requiring the top civilian officials with the armed forces to personally approve “don’t ask, don’t tell” discharges after a federal judge in California ordered the military to immediately stop enforcing its ban on openly gay troops, declaring the 17-year-old policy unconstitutional.

An appeals court subsequently froze the judge’s order until it could consider the broader constitutional issues in the case.

Putting responsibility for firing gay personnel in the hands of the three service secretaries was not designed to slow the rate of discharges, Gates said at the time. Rather, concentrating that authority was meant to ensure uniformity and care in enforcement at a time of legal uncertainty, he said in a memo outlining the new rules.

Gates since has urged the Senate to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” before a new Congress takes office in January. He said this week he plans to release a monthslong study on how lifting the gay service ban would affect the armed forces and could be carried out on Nov. 30.

—  John Wright

Discharges Under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Have Stopped

The AP's Lisa Leff reports:

"Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told The Associated Press that no discharges have been approved since Oct. 21. Smith did not know if the absence of recent discharges was related to the new separation procedures. The Pentagon has not compiled monthly discharge figures for any other months this year, she said."

More at the WaPo


Towleroad News #gay

—  admin

Breaking: Log Cabin Republicans Asks Supreme Court To Toss Out 9th Circuit’s DADT Stay, Immediately Halt Discharges

In an emergency request to reverse the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' 2-1 decision to grant a stay, thus blocking Judge Virginia Phillips' injunction of Don't Ask Don't Tell, the Log Cabin Republicans are asking the Supreme Court to toss out the stay and keep DADT from being enforced while the government appeals the decision. The option to act falls to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who handles the Ninth Circuit's appeals, and who "will likely ask his eight colleagues to help him decide and order the federal government to weigh in with its views before a decision is made," says CNN. LCR's chief R. Clarke Cooper says, "It is unfortunate the Obama Justice Department has forced the Log Cabin Republicans to go to the Supreme Court." The group writes in its filing, called an "application," "Unless the court of appeals stay is vacated, the respondents will be free to continue to investigate and discharge American service members for no reason other than their homosexuality, in violation of their due process and First Amendment rights."


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—  admin

BREAKING: Pentagon revises procedure for discharges under ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

In a change that one expert said could “dramatically reduce” discharges, the defense department issued new guidelines Thursday for enforcement of “don’t ask don’t tell.”

The new guidelines came in the wake of Wednesday’s decision by a federal appeals court to grant a temporary stay of a district judge’s order halting enforcement of the policy.

From Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly:

Until further notice, pursuant to a memorandum from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a follow-up memorandum from Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley, no service member can be discharged under DADT without the ”personal approval of the secretary of the military department concerned, and only in coordination with me and the General Counsel of the Department of Defense.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said while the change could “dramatically reduce DADT discharges,” it doesn’t mean that gays in the military should come out.

“The Pentagon appears to be saying  to the court and to service members that it will provide all service members the protections already afforded officers, but with no delegation of that authority: All proposed DADT discharges, regardless of grade and rank, will be reviewed at the highest civilian levels. This can be a major constructive development for gay and lesbian service members,” Sarvis said.

“This important change could dramatically reduce DADT discharges, if DoD applies the Witt legal standard throughout the military, which requires the Pentagon to find that gay service members would harm military readiness, unit cohesion and good order, before they are discharged. But this Pentagon guidance memo does not end DADT. It is still in place, and service members should not come out.

“The fact that DADT remains law further underscores the urgent need for the full Senate to vote for repeal when it returns to lame-duck session next month.”

—  John Wright

Pentagon Suspends Discharges During Appeal Of DADT Overturn

The Pentagon has made it official. There will be no more DADT-related discharges until the DOJ’s appeal of its overturn is resolved. This move was leaked earlier today on the Rachel Maddow Show blog. The below message has been posted to the DOD’s defense.gov website.

Pending an appeal, the military services have halted discharges under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, DOD officials said today. Judge Virginia Phillips of the U.S. Central District of California ordered the halt to discharges and investigations. Phillips found the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell statute unconstitutional in a Sept. 9 ruling. On Oct. 12, she issued an injunction ordering the Defense Department worldwide to halt discharges and investigations. “Earlier today, the staff judge advocate generals from the military services, in consultation with the Office of the Secretary of Defense Office of General Counsel, sent to their service staff judge advocate counterparts in the field an e-mail informing them of the ruling by Judge Virginia Phillips of the Central District of California, issuing an injunction barring the enforcement or application of 10 United States Code 654, commonly known as the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ statute,” Pentagon spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan said in a written statement.

Joe. My. God.

—  John Wright

Judge Halts “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Discharges; Service Members Urged Not To Come Out

Today, federal district court judge Virginia Phillips, followed her September decision striking down the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law as unconstitutional in a case brought by the Log Cabin Republicans by ordering the Department of Defense to immediately cease enforcement of the statute barring lesbians and gays from serving openly in the Armed Forces.  However, because legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is still pending in the Senate, and because litigation of this case may not have yet reached its end, we encourage service members to remain cautious about disclosing their sexual orientation.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese issued the following statement upon hearing of Judge Phillips’s decision:

“The administration should comply with her order and stop enforcing this unconstitutional, unconscionable law that forces brave lesbian and gay Americans to serve in silence. The President has said this law harms our national security and we believe it would be a mistake to appeal the decision.  Each additional day that this unjust law remains in force is one more day the federal government is complicit in discrimination.”

The Justice Department could still seek an emergency stay with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, as early as tonight, that would block Judge Phillips’s injunction until that court could hold a formal hearing on the merits of Judge Phillips’s decision to halt all discharges.  In addition, as of today, the Department has 60 days to file an appeal of her September decision striking down the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law as unconstitutional.   

It is time for the Administration to recognize that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is unconstitutional, and we urge the Justice Department to accept Judge Phillips’s decision to cease all discharges.  Regardless, the Administration must do everything in its power to work with the Senate and Department of Defense to ensure that legislative repeal is completed when the Senate returns in November.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Judge Tells Pentagon To Immediately Halt DADT Discharges

U.S. district judge Virginia A. Phillips, overseeing the Log Cabin Republicans' DADT lawsuit, today ordered the Department of Defense to "immediately to suspend and discontinue any investigation, or discharge, separation, or other proceeding. While we should expect DoJ to appeal the ruling to the Ninth Circuit (because that is the Obama administration's nature), it's unquestionably a bold move, and will carry much weight when the decision is reviewed. (The order also says LCR can request the feds pay their legal bills.) However, like we said when Phillips handed down her original ruling: that doesn't mean The Gays should be coming out right away if they want to keep their jobs.

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—  John Wright