‘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 It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.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

Graying gays face a growing problem

The sad story of one longtime activist left homeless and alone highlights the many issues facing our aging LGBT population

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

Imagine being old, sick, confused and alone without a roof over your head when winter weather arrives. That’s exactly what happened late last year to a well-known gay political activist who had lived in Oak Lawn for many years.

It’s unclear how much he actually understood about his circumstances because he was suffering from either the early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease or some other form of dementia — a condition that left him unable to survive alone or to seek help.

After he came to the attention of a Dallas Police Department social worker, who tried to locate help for him, the activist eventually was admitted to a residential facility where he is now receiving the care he needs.

A plea for information about the identity of his family members, published last year by the Dallas Voice at the request of the social worker, went unanswered. The activist had mentioned in the past he was the father of a grown son, but he has never been located, according to the social worker.

The only response to the newspaper’s blog post was from an individual who had found photographs and others of the activist’s belongings on a curb and wanted to return them to him. Someone apparently had dumped the items there after the activist was evicted from his apartment sometime last year.

The activist had been on the streets for months when law enforcement officers picked him up because he allegedly had tried to break into a car.

The activist may have been confused and only seeking shelter in the car, the social worker said.

He was arrested and taken to jail, where a nurse who realized he was suffering from dementia sought help from the Police Department’s crisis intervention department.

It’s shocking that someone who had run for political office on the Democratic Party ticket, worked with police and other local officials to benefit the community and participated in so many other LGBT endeavors could wind up helpless and on the streets.

Neighbors of the activist contacted the social worker when the Dallas Voice blog post was published and informed her about his eviction. She suspects that he may have gotten evicted because his dementia left him too disorganized to pay rent and take care of his personal business.

The activist’s story reveals that there doesn’t appear to be many resources dedicated specifically to LGBT seniors in Dallas. That’s a cause for great concern because gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are more likely to become estranged from their families than are their straight counterparts.

In years past a few concerned people tried to raise interest in a local LGBT retirement community of townhouses, apartments and a full-care facility that would serve people of all financial situations. But they failed to make any headway after repeated tries.

Resource Center Dallas sponsors a program for LGBT seniors, but its focus is learning, entertainment and social activities, according to the organization’s website.

If there are any local organizations sponsoring outreach to LGBT seniors who need help surviving, they failed to make contact with the homeless activist before police officers put him in jail.

Some of his neighbors — one of whom had let him stay in her apartment several nights — apparently were concerned about his welfare but had no idea where to turn to find him help.

In comparison, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center’s Senior Services program employs four workers to assist gay people 50 and older with social, educational and support issues. About 70 events are held monthly at the center, which is a much larger and older operation than the one in Dallas.

The case management services and referrals sponsored by the Los Angeles group’s program addresses affordable housing, benefits, home health assistance, bereavement, isolation, mental health and legal issues, according to the organization’s website.

The Los Angeles center’s operation is a good model for Dallas’ center to consider implementing — especially in the area of senior services — as its leaders look to the future. The number of aging LGBT people is only going to grow in the coming years as baby boomers continue to mature. It only makes sense to support the idea of providing services to our community’s older population because everyone who lives long enough is going to grow old eventually.

And anyone who hasn’t started planning for their future ought to take a lesson from what happened to the activist and start thinking along those lines.

David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright

Odessa gets a PFLAG chapter — plus, some tips for dealing with family over the holidays

Odessa is the latest Texas city to get a chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians.

According to the PFLAG website, the Odessa chapter is one of about 17 in Texas and 500 nationwide.

CBS 7 reports:

“My daughter told me at the age of 37 that she was gay,” says Shari Johnson.

And Johnson didn’t take the news lightly.

“I fell apart, went to pieces, thought it was the end of the world … begged God to change her … and in the process he changed me,” she claims.

She was changed through PFLAG.

“All of the people involved helped me understand that this wasn’t a tragedy. Found out I was lacking in the love department…and that’s the most important thing.”

That’s why she started a chapter here in her hometown of Odessa.

Also, as we perused the PFLAG site, we couldn’t help but notice these “Tips for a Happy Holiday for GLBT People.” If you plan to come out to family during the holidays or bring your partner home for a visit, they’re probably worth a look. For example:

• If you bring your partner home, don’t wait until late into the holiday evening to raise the issue of sleeping arrangements. Make plans in advance.

—  John Wright

Get your (4-legged) kid photographed with Santa

Any childless gay person knows: Our dogs are not just our pets; they are our family. And the holidays is when family members go to the mall to get their picture taken with Santa. But try bringing your little Huckleberry to NorthPark and getting past the elves. Mean S.O.B.s, they are.

But on Nov. 13 and 14, and again Nov. 20 and 21, you can find a pet-friendly lap in a bright red suit (pictured, as played by Linden Bransom). From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, Santa and photographer John Hudson will be on hand for Hounds for the Holidays, a fundraiser for the Greyhound Adoption League of Texas (GALT). Located at Town Hall Square n Belt Line Road in Addison, personalized pictures start at $10. And you don’t need to have a greyhound, either — all breeds are welcome.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

More suicides? Lesbians found dead in Canada

Chantal Dube, left, and Jeanine Blanchette

The Canadian LGBT news site Xtra is reporting that the bodies of two young lesbians have been found in a wooded area in Orangeville, Ontario after the two apparently committed suicide.

Girlfriends Jeanine Blanchette, 21, and Chantal Dube, 17, reportedly made “goodbye” phone calls to two friends, and left goodbye letters behind for family members. The friends immediately reported the calls to police, by Blanchette’s family said didn’t take the threat seriously enough or look hard enough for the two young women, choosing to believe instead that Blanchette and Dube had run away together and would come back home before long.

Police have said autopsy reports won’t be available for several weeks, but one of Blanchette’s family members said they believe the two young women deliberately overdosed on prescription medications. The families have also said they do not believe the girls’ deaths had anything to do with their sexual orientation, according to a report in The Toronto Star.

The girls’ bodies were found by a member of Blanchette’s family. The family, frustrated over what they saw as a lack of response from police, contacted a psychic for help and then formed their own search party.

Xtra points out that these deaths come in the wake of suicides by six teenage boys in the past month who had been the victims of anti-gay bullying.

—  admin

Local briefs • 08.20.10

WRCC hosts ‘Sunday Show’

The White Rock Community Church Choir and Drama Ministry will present “The Sunday Show,” an old-fashioned radio show featuring interviews with “widows” from the Bible embellished with original songs, on Sunday. Aug. 29, at the church’s regular 10:45 a.m. service.

The program used catchy rhythms and talk show-style dialog to give the audience a new understanding of remarkable women from biblical times.

White Rock Community Church is located at 9353 Garland Road in Dallas. For more information call 214-320-0043 or go online to WhiteRockChurch.org.

Yoga of the Breath begins Aug. 27

The next Yoga of the Breath course for People Living with HIV begins Friday Aug, 27 and is open to everyone living with HIV, which includes caregivers, partners and other family members of people with HIV.

The program is free of charge, and will be held at Pride Pharmacy, 2929 Carlisle St. in Dallas. Meals and transportation are provided.
For more information call 469-212-3797.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens