Fort Hood holds Pride celebration

By Irene Andrews

 

History was made in Killeen, Texas, when Fort Hood, the largest Army base in the free world, held its first Pride month celebration on June 25.

My wife and I carpooled with several LGBTQ and straight allies to Fort Hood, for the event, which took place in the Club Hood Grande Ballroom. We were some of the first to arrive and were given seats in the center row. I quickly set up my video camera in the aisle to get a perfect shot of the podium.

As soldiers in camouflage fatigues began to trickle in, I walked around and spoke with them. I met John, who introduced himself as the husband of Captain Robert W. Caruso, the chaplain who would be giving the invocation. John and I were viewing large posters on display: a photo of the Oval Office with President Obama signing the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, black-and-white snapshots of the first LGBT protest in front of the White House, circa 1965, led by Frank Kameny, and other photos with captions of interest.

The Black Jacks Brass Quintet of the 1st Cavalry Division began to warm up and in the midst of the music and buzz of conversations, you could feel the excitement and growing anticipation of what was to come.

I felt compelled to capture these moments as they unfolded before me. I grabbed my phone and began using it to do impromptu 30 second interviews: “Please state your name and tell me why it is important for you to be here today.”

Everyone I approached was eager to share their thoughts and leaned close to speak loudly into the microphone. They wanted to be heard as much as I wanted to record their voices. The din of musicians tuning instruments was not going to deter them. We all sensed the significance and gravity of this moment. We were never going back. “Silent No More” was a reality.

This was the beginning of a new Army tradition, and because Fort Hood was leading the way, I knew the surrounding civilian communities — and indeed the whole state of Texas — would follow — even if kicking and screaming. They would have to acknowledge us and respect us and see us for who we are.

Diversity and inclusion were winning the day. Same-sex couples were proudly sitting together, one in uniform, the other in street clothes, both smiling broadly.

Sgt. Major Michael Horton and her wife were among the mixed — military/civilian — couples there. Sgt. Major Horton said, “I am here to help support our Pride month. We have seen a big change in the Army and it has made it a better unit, a better force.”

Her wife, Consuela Jackson Horton, added, “I’m here to show support and I’m actually very excited to see the military community coming together as one.”

I was able to catch up with Capt. Caruso, who said, “I’m here because this is a momentous event. It’s historical, and I’m excited about it. I’m a gay man, out of the closet, and I’ve been a chaplain for two years, after seven years serving in ordained ministry as a civilian, and I am now married to my partner John.

“Our community is now able to express themselves and be open with who they are,” Caruso said. “My ministry is to all soldiers, but I have now had many gay and lesbian soldiers come to me with their issues. It is a different Army now. Its a good thing, but also very new.”

Caruso agreed that this new openness is making the Army stronger and healthier. “’Strength in Diversity’ is a core Army value,” he said. “Diversity is the anchor that holds the Army together, in my opinion. It’s what makes us who we are. We are a microcosm of society.”

Patricia Amazon Muldrow Roberts came with a group from the Bell County and Stonewall Democrats. She said she made the trip because “it is an opportunity and a privilege to be at Fort Hood to honor our soldiers. Our commander-in-chief has set a tone that now gay people, heterosexual people and transgender people — it doesn’t matter — can walk proudly with their partners and not be afraid. I’m proud to be here. I’m so glad to be here. As a black woman I can say the first time we were recognized and we were able to go into a restaurant and we were able to not use the back door — what that felt like. … I just wanted to stand beside my brothers and sisters and let them know we’re all one!”

Brigadier Gen. Tammy Smith was the guest speaker. She was the first LGBT Army member to have her wife, Tracey Hepner, promote her, as is the tradition for a service member’s spouse to do. This action was their “coming out” moment.

Smith shared her deeply personal struggle to live “two separate lives” for more than 24 years while serving in the military, until she met and fell in love with Tracey. Smith said she nearly walked away from a distinguished military career because she could no longer deal with the stress of lying about who she was. She refused to disrespect her wife and their relationship by denying their love and commitment.

Shortly before she was set to retire, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed and Smith decided not to leave the army. She and Tracey proudly live on base in a family housing unit.

Smith’s story stirred many in the audience. Straight allies I invited to attend with me were moved to tears. On a gut level, they began to understand the sacrifice Smith and so many LGBT service members were forced to make.

Protecting the rights and freedoms of fellow U.S. citizens would not afford them any safety. They would be denied those very same rights and witness the court martial and disgraceful dismissal their LGBTQ comrades and battle buddies.

I will never forget the moment my wife and I introduced ourselves to Gen. Smith and thanked her and Hepner. We were humbled by their courage and grace.

Coming out changed their lives as it my and my wife, Joan’s, lives. We left the event knowing that when we all have the courage to be our beautiful, loving, joyfully authentic selves, we release a power within us that reverberates like ripples from a stone breaking the surface of water.

The choice to be authentic transforms each one of us and rocks the world around us. We become part of a positive “chain reaction.” We begin to witness that which we have always hoped for: Equality. I believe Gen. Smith would agree that our families and our future depend on all of us coming out.

Happy Pride. Be out, be loud and be proud.

 

 

—  David Taffet

TENT seeks trans military veterans for Texas Outserve-SLDN conference

Blumer.Oliver

Oliver Blumer

The Transgender Education Network of Texas is looking for trans veterans to serve on a panel at the 2013 Outserve -SLDN leadership conference.

TENT needs those who can attend the Oct. 25–27 conference in San Antonio and are comfortable telling their stories but is also looking for people who are not comfortable speaking in public to privately share their stories to collect for a “public narrative.”

Although “don’t ask, don’t tell” ended for gay and lesbian service members, trans personnel may still be thrown out of the military.

The Saturday afternoon panel is entitled “Transgender Veterans: Stories to Move the DADT Transgender Service Members Forward.” Those interested in participating should contact Oliver Blumer. Those interested in participating in the public narrative should contact TENT’s Katy Stewart.

Among the other presenters at the conference are the American Military Partner Assocation that has been following the Texas National Guard’s refusal to register same-sex partners of military personnel so they can receive an ID and federal benefits.

The 2013 Outserve-SLDN leadership conference will be held in San Antonio on Oct. 25–27 at the Marriott Rivercenter. Tickets are available online.

—  David Taffet

Obama official highlights business equality at N. TX GLBT Chamber dinner

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Fred Hochberg, the openly gay president of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., speaks at the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce’s eight annual Business Excellence Awards dinner on Thursday night. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Fred Hochberg is using his position as president of the Export-Import Bank to advance LGBT equality among business leaders and politicians.

Hochberg said he frequently gets an opportunity to educate anti-equality lawmakers about LGBT issues because they want and need to understand the issues of international business.

Hochberg, the first openly gay president of the Export-Import Bank of the U.S. and the highest-ranking gay person in the Obama administration, spoke about the importance of educating people on LGBT issues as the keynote speaker at the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce’s eighth annual Business Excellence Awards Dinner Thursday.

Hochberg’s role includes trying to double U.S. exports by the end of 2014. With 95 percent of the world’s consumers outside of the U.S., Hochberg said he has conversations with people who vote against LGBT issues, but strive to understand the issues in a global market. And he uses his position to help gain understanding for the LGBT community.

But even as the highest ranking openly LGBT official, Hochberg said times weren’t always so accepting, mentioning his hesitancy to come out in the 1970s. He joked that he came out slowly instead of young people now who come out on Facebook.

“If you’re not out, I’ll let you it is a hell of a lot better on the other side,” Hochberg said.

While his career was in business, he said he wanted to do more and dedicated himself to helping elect President Bill Clinton and then focused on lifting the ban on gays in the military, which he called “a gift to America.”

Clinton appointed him to head the Small Business Administration in 1998. And President Barack Obama later tapped him to head the Export-Import Bank in 2009, a position for which he was recently nominated again.

He said he was proud to see Obama repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” sign an LGBT-inclusive federal hate crimes bill into law and come out for marriage equality. But he reminded the audience that the work is not done, and when people see successful groups like the GLBT chamber, they think all LGBT people are successful and happy, when there are many who are not.

“They don’t see the discrimination. They don’t see that our brothers and sisters who work at jobs are afraid to come out or our partners that are not covered by insurance,” Hochberg said. “We all have to keep working because I think our work is not done.”

Recipients of the chamber’s business excellence awards were recognized during the dinner. The awards were: The law office of Rob Wiley, Business of the Year; Kristopher Parker of Resource Center Credit Union, Emerging Leader; Jeremy Bradford of the American Cancer Society, Member Service; Cooper Smith Koch of Cooper Smith Agency, Community Service; Nancy Minchillo of Hewlett Packard, Supplier Diversity Champion; Southwest Airlines, Corporate Ally; and Marsha Thomas of TNT Promotions, Chairman’s Award.

More photos below.

—  Dallasvoice

Hagel vows to push for equal benefits for gay and lesbian military families

Chuck Hagel

Two LGBT groups, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and the Family Equality Council, are praising Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel after he wrote a letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer addressing concerns about his appointment. Boxer endorsed the Hagel nomination on Monday. She had withheld support citing his positions on Israel, women’s and LGBT issues.

With regard to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Hagel wrote:

“I fully support the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 and value the service of all those who fight for our country. I know firsthand the profound sacrifice our service members and their families make, and if confirmed as Secretary of Defense, I will do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.”

In the U.S. Senate, Hagel received a 0 percent rating with Human Rights Campaign and voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act. He was not in the Senate for the enactment or repeal of DADT.

“This commitment is a big step forward for military families with lesbian and gay parents,” said Emily Hecht-McGowan, director of public policy for Family Equality Council. “The Department of Defense has a lot of work to do to ensure that all military families have access to the benefits they’ve earned through service to their country. We look forward to working with the Administration to make sure that all military families, including those with lesbian and gay servicemembers, are protected and respected.”

“Senator Hagel’s commitment is a turning point for our gay and lesbian military families,” said SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson. “His promise to grant these service members the family benefits they have earned demonstrates his deepening grasp of the injustice currently being done to them.”

In its press release, SLDN referred to a 2011 letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demanding a list of benefits available to straight military and denied to gay and lesbian military because of DOMA. That list includes issuance of military ID cards for a non-military spouse and access to military hospitals to visit a sick child by the non-military parent. Without a military ID card, a spouse cannot get on a base to visit the child.

While far right wing members of the Senate continue to oppose Hagel’s nomination, Jewish members are beginning to support him. In addition to Boxer, Chuck Schumer of New York expressed support today.

—  David Taffet

Obama taps Hagel despite opposition from LGBT groups, right-wingers

Chuck Hagel

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz probably didn’t expect his first major stand in the U.S. Senate to be firmly on the same side as his LGBT constituents.

But Cruz and LGBT groups — along with right-wing supporters of Israel, some Jewish groups and many Democrats who want a Democrat appointed — are united in their opposition to the nomination of Sen. Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. Sen. John Cornyn also said he opposes Hagel’s nomination.

Cruz said on Fox News Sunday he couldn’t imagine supporting Hagel because of his anti-Israel positions.

Log Cabin Republicans has been among the most vocal of Hagel’s LGBT opponents. Log Cabin, which took a leading role in the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” took out full-page ads last week in the New York Times and today in the Washington Post opposing the nomination. In 2011, Log Cabin won a lawsuit challenging DADT that resulted in a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordering the federal government to stop enforcing it. The ruling came after repeal legislation passed but before final enactment.

—  David Taffet

Army vet and FFW President Jon Nelson asks USAA to add LGBT protections

Fairness Fort Worth President Jon Nelson used this Veterans Day to impact change at United Services Automobile Association.

USAA is a Texas-based company that provides banking, investing and insurance serves to people and families of those who have served in the U.S. military.

Nelson is an Army veteran who served as a combat infantry officer in Vietnam. He is a policyholder with USAA, which doesn’t offer its employees or policyholders LGBT protections.

He wrote to CEO Gen. Josue Robles this week to encourage him as a gay veteran and policyholder to consider adding policies that covered everyone USAA employs and insures.

“When I was in the Army, I was taught to lead by example,” Nelson writes. “It’s time USAA did so by changing its policies and procedures to acknowledge, provide for and protect those LGBT policyholders and employees.  These changes that USAA, just like American Airlines and others, make will send a clear message.”

In related news, USAA received the worst possible score of zero on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Corporate Equality Index, which was released today.

Read Nelson’s full letter below.

—  Dallasvoice

Oklahoma House panel hears bill to reinstate ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ for state’s National Guard

Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City

Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern once called gays a bigger to America threat than terrorists, and Oklahoma certainly wouldn’t want terrorists in its National Guard. So according to Kern’s logic, that must mean the state shouldn’t allow gays and lesbians in its National Guard, either.

In January, State Rep. Mike Reynolds introduced a bill that would allow anyone eligible to serve in the military on Jan. 1, 2009 — 20 days before Barack Obama was inaugurated as president — to serve in the Oklahoma National Guard.

The bill would put the state at odds with military policy — which has allowed gays to serve openly since the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” last year.

Last week, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis wrote to Gen. Craig R. McKinley, the National Guard Bureau Chief, and asked him to come out against the bill.

“If a state National Guard ‘fails to comply with a requirement of this title, or a regulation prescribed under this title, the National Guard of that State is barred, in whole or in part, as the President may prescribe, from receiving money or any other aid, benefit, or privilege authorized by law,’” Sarvis warned McKinley.

In other words, if Reynolds’ bill passes, Oklahoma could lose $300 million from the federal government.

Sarvis also wondered what will happen to service personnel in the Oklahoma Guard who have come out since the repeal of DADT.

“Would those who have come out since the repeal of DADT be discharged?” he asked. “And if the Oklahoma National Guard mobilizes into federal service, will gay and lesbian guard members from Oklahoma be allowed to serve openly while deployed in accordance with DOD and National Guard Bureau policy, only to be demobilized and discharged under Oklahoma’s DADT law?”

The Oklahoma Daily weighed in with its opinion: “A ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ rule for Oklahoma National Guard is wasteful and disrespectful to guardsmen.” John Aravosis of AmericaBlog has a different idea — call their bluff and let them hang themselves.

The Oklahoma House Veteran and Military Affairs Committee is scheduled to hear arguments about the bill this afternoon, according to the Oklahoma LGBT group The Equality Network.

UPDATE: Oklahoma Sen. Al McAffrey reports that the bill has been sent to a different committee where it will die.

“The bill reinstating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the Oklahoma National Guard is dead!” McAffrey wrote. “It was pulled from the Veterans Committee and reassigned to the Rules Committee, where the Chairman will not hear the bill. It’s good for our state that this bad piece of legislation will not proceed.”

—  David Taffet

WATCH: Rick Perry says he ‘would be comfortable’ reinstating ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Texas Gov. Rick Perry told ABC News’ Christine Amanpour this morning that he “would be comfortable” reinstating “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It marks the first time Perry has taken a position on the issue during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Watch the clip from ThinkProgress below.

—  John Wright

DADT repeal celebrated in Dallas

Gay and lesbian former servicemembers raised their hands to indicate they served in the military at a reception at Resource Center Dallas

Resource Center Dallas hosted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal party on Tuesday. A number of gay and lesbian former servicemembers attended, some of whom were discharged under DADT. Among them several who are considering rejoining the military.

David Guy Gainer, a board member for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, presented his collection of papers and memorabilia on the history of DADT to the Phil Johnson Library — the Resource Center’s LGBT history archive.

Among the items presented was the book Ask & Tell by Steve Estes. Guy Gainer traveled with the book that is a compilation of essays and had many of the writers autograph the copy that is now at the library. His papers included a copy of an email from the White House inviting Guy Gainer to the DADT repeal signing ceremony.

Guy Gainer said although repeal was the major goal of SLDN, work remains. Gay and lesbian servicemembers won’t be eligible for 40 benefits available to straight ones. Those include everything from library and PX exchange store privileges to health and housing benefits. And transgender people are still barred from serving openly.

For a full story, see Friday’s Dallas Voice.

—  David Taffet

DADT ends, but discrimination continues

Dan Choi being arrested at the White House while protesting DADT.

The Dallas celebration of the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” begins at 5:30 p.m. today at Resource Center Dallas.

Although the policy to discharge any member of the military suspected of being gay or lesbian has ended, discrimination has not. That discrimination may take a number of forms, including refusal to promote. Benefits will also not be equal. The military will not recognize same-sex spouses so gay and lesbian families will not receive any benefits including housing and health benefits. And transgender service members are still barred from open service.

But the discriminatory policy toward gays and lesbians has ended, and President Barack Obama issued a statement today:

—  David Taffet