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Even though the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed in December, remains in place until military are able to decide how best to implement repeal and what benefits will be offered to spouses of gay and lesbian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

Transgender ban remains in place in U.S. military

WILL IT HAPPEN? | Trans veteran Maeve O’Connor of Dallas, left, thinks that lifting the ban on open military service by transgender people will be tricky, but it is doable. But Mickie Garrison, left, another local trans veteran, says she doesn’t believe it will happen “for another 50 to 100 years.”

Seeing the ban on open lesbians and gays in the military lifted is a bittersweet victory of transgenders, who still can’t serve openly

TAMMYE NASH | Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

As lesbian and gay servicemembers and military veterans are celebrating the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — despite delays in implementing the repeal — transgender servicemembers and veterans once again find themselves left behind in the battle for equality.

Because repealing DADT did not end the ban on service by trans people.

“The military still puts trans people in the same medical category as pedophilia. They consider it [transgenderism] to be a medical disorder,” said Monica Helms, president and co-founder of Transgender American Veterans Association.

“Trans people still have to be deep in the closet. They can’t talk to anyone about their lives, or they risk being discharged and getting something other than an honorable discharge,” Helms added. “Because the kind of discharge you get can make a huge difference in what kind of benefits you can get.”

Helms said that there is one way in which DADT repeal will affect trans servicemembers: Now the military will have to find a different reason for discharging trans people.

“A lot of times, trans people were discharged under DADT because the military isn’t smart enough to know the difference between gender identity/gender expression and sexual orientation. They think if a man wears a dress, he must be gay.”

MAKE IT WORK | Monica Helms, president and co-founder of Transgender American Veterans Association, says lifting the ban on open military service by transgender people shouldn’t be that difficult. After all, eight of the U.S.’s allies have already done it, including Canada. (Photo courtesy TAVA)

Other trans servicemembers were discharged for “medical reasons,” others were discharged as “undesirables,” Helms said. “I guess they will go back to doing those things when they can’t use DADT anymore.”

Even those people who transition after leaving the military still face discrimination from the Veterans Administration, Helm said.

Helms, who served as a submariner in the Navy for eight years in the 1970s, said conservative estimates put the number of transgender veterans at roughly 300,000 people.

“We figure trans people are about 1 percent of the population. That’s counting everyone under the transgender umbrella, and it’s a rough estimate,” Helms said. “And the percentage of trans people in the military veteran population is about the same.”

So, with about 26 million veterans and another 1.5 million active-duty servicemembers, more or less, do the math and you come up with about 280,000 transgender veterans. Helms said TAVA rounds that up to about 300,000, based on statistics from the VA and personal experience.

“If we are at an event for trans people, when we ask the veterans to stand up, there are a whole lot of people that stand up, so we figure that rounding up the numbers is accurate,” she said.

When a trans veteran tries to access the benefits they earned with their service, particularly medical benefits, the results are mixed, Helms said.

“Some places, they are treated fairly well; some places they are treated very badly,” she said. “The benefits don’t cover any of the [transitional] surgeries at all. But we have heard stories of trans vets being turned down for even the most basic medical services that they are entitled to.

“The doctors misgender them on purpose, they refuse to change names in the database, they call them names,” Helms continued. “Doctors, nurses, other patients — we have heard stories about trans veterans being mistreated by all of them.”

Helms said she has never encountered such problems because she has never had to use any of the VA’s medical services.

“I used the education benefits, and I got a VA loan to buy my house. But I always had decent jobs and had private insurance through my employers, so I’ve never had to use the medical benefits. So my trans status was never an issue,” she said.

Maeve O’Connor, a trans veteran from Dallas, spent 4 ½ years on active duty in the Navy, and another 4 ½ years in the Navy Reserves. Like Helms, O’Connor didn’t begin to transition until after she had left the military, and like Helms, she has never had to access VA medical benefits.

But O’Connor recently reached the point of having her name and gender markers officially changed on legal documents, like her birth certificate, and she said she is unsure what will happen when she contacts the VA to have her name and gender markers corrected on her military records.

“Now that it’s official, I do need to go in and get those records changed. I don’t know what will happen when I do. I’ve not had any experience with the VA as a transgender person, so I don’t know how difficult it will be to deal with them,” O’Connor said.

For Micki Garrison, another local transgender veteran, the specter of wrangling with a hostile VA bureaucracy made it not worth the effort of even trying to access VA benefits.

Garrison said she had graduated high school and finished a semester of college when the expense of a college education became too big a burden. So she joined the Army and finished a three-year enlistment so she could get the educational benefits offered to veterans.

But like Helms and O’Connor, that military service happened long before she began her transition, although she — also like Helms and O’Connor — was already beginning to struggle with her gender identity when she enlisted.

“I just ran out of patience with the bureaucracy. I just can’t deal with it anymore. I have other battles to fight, so I will leave that battle for other people to fight,” Garrison said. “If it was just, ‘Yeah, you are trans, but you are also a veteran, so we will help you out,’ that would be one thing. But all that frustration with the bureaucracy makes it just not worth it to bother.”

Besides, Garrison said, “many of the benefits they offer didn’t turn out to that big of a benefit anyway.”

Ending the trans ban

Garrison said that while she and other transgender veterans she knows are happy on behalf of lesbian and gay veterans and servicemembers to see DADT repealed, for transgenders, it was a bittersweet victory at best.

“We are really happy for the gay and lesbian servicemembers, sure. But at the same time, it’s like getting up on Christmas morning and seeing presents under the tree for everybody but you,” Garrison said. “I don’t want to sound like sour grapes. But while other people now get the chance to live their lives openly and with dignity and respect, trans people are left empty-handed again.”

But as much as she would like to see the ban on transgenders in the military ended, Garrison isn’t at all optimistic about that actually happening.

“I’d say we are at least 50 to 100 years away from that,” she said. “Opponents would be so very adamantly against it, I don’t think there’s even a snowball’s chance in hell that it’s even a battle worth fighting right now.

“That’s very, very sad. But it’s hard for me to come to a place where I could even believe that kind of change is possible. I mean, we are still trying to get procedures in place where we can get a driver’s license or fly on a plane without hassles.”

Garrison noted that most people enlisting in the military are young — just out of high school, or college-aged. Trans people at that age are many times just beginning to fight their own internal battles over their gender identity, she said.

“How could I have been openly trans at that point in my life? I wasn’t able to deal with it [my gender identity], how can I expect the military to deal with it?” Garrison said.

She pointed out that there are different stages to transitioning, and said those stages would cause ongoing problems in the strict military environment. Things like housing and combat status could prove uncomfortable, at least, for both the trans servicemember and their fellow soldiers.

“We bring a lot of hard questions to the table, especially during that time of transition — and that can be a long time,” Garrison said. “It’s very sad, I think. As much as I wish there would be inclusion, but the complexity level of transitioning is such a personal thing. A lot of people have to pull out of mainstream life to get that worked out and then re-integrate. I think until we have an ‘in-between’ state in our culture, until it’s not just either-or genders, I don’t think there will be good answers to the military situation.”

O’Connor acknowledged that the situation is “tricky.” But, she added, “It’s not un-overcomable.”

She said, “I think if you can do the job and live up to the goals and ideas of the military, then it shouldn’t be an issue. But it is definitely a complicated situation. There’s a lot involved. When you are a transsexual, you are transitioning in some way, and if you are transitioning, say, from male to female going into the military, then the military has to be willing to treat you like any other woman in the military.”

But, O’Connor added, transgender people joining the military would have to be willing to make some concessions, too.

“Yes, everyone should be able to serve. But the military is all about discipline, and everything is very cut and dried. And transgender people joining the military have to be willing to accept that discipline, just as a matter of security,” O’Connor said. “When you join the military, you join knowing that you are giving up some of your constitutional freedoms to a certain extent. The Code of Military Justice is stricter than civilian law, and the reason for that is safety. You have to follow that chain of command.”

But for Helms, the issue simply isn’t that complicated at all.

“We are not inventing the wheel here,” Helms said. “Eight of our ally countries already allow trans people to serve openly to different degrees, including our ally to the north, Canada, which has let trans people serve openly since 1998.

“I know a trans woman in Canada who has served for 28 years. She transitioned in the military, and they paid for everything. It’s just not a big deal there,” Helms continued. “The U.K., Israel, Australia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Spain — there are different levels of service and different policies dealing with it in different places, but come on. They all let trans people serve openly in the military.

“But our country is backward,” Helms said. “In our country, they think everything is a problem. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Just let the people who want to serve, serve openly and with integrity. That’s all it takes.”

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

—  John Wright

Nature or nurture? Or maybe it’s diet

Scientists in Florida have discovered that ingesting too much mercury apparently turns male white ibises gay. But they stress the research has no bearing on human sexuality

Leslie Robinson  General Gayety

ARE THEY OR AREN’T THEY? | Only their dietician knows for sure. Recent research indicates that male white ibises that ingest mercury go gay.

Scientists in Florida have discovered that when male white ibises eat too much mercury, they turn gay. Don’t blame an overbearing ibis mother. Blame the metal.

Suspicious that mercury had led to lower breeding levels among the wading birds, researchers fed groups of ibises varying levels of mercury over three years. The results shocked the stuffing out of the scientists:

The higher the mercury dose, the more likely a bird was to sing show tunes.

These new Friends of Dorothy “pretty much did everything except lay eggs,” said study leader Peter Frederick to The Miami Herald. “They built nests, they copulated, they sat in the nests together.”

They went to a lesbian flamingo therapist when no egg appeared.

Male ibises with any mercury intake were more reticent to perform ritual courtship displays, causing numbers of female ibises to cry together over Cosmopolitans.

In the high-mercury birds, reproduction plunged 35 percent. Complaints from wannabe grandparents soared 65 percent.

The mercury levels in the experiment mirrored those found in the birds’ natural wetland habitats. Frederick, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Florida, told Nature.com “the implication is that this is probably happening in wild bird populations.”

Which means the wilderness is getting wilder. Not a good thing, in this case.

These beautiful, long-billed birds are being poisoned into gayness. In wild populations of ibis with no mercury exposure, same-sex pairings don’t occur.
Well, it probably happens once in a while, when the tequila is plentiful and the birds are bi-curious, but not as a rule.

We should go with what nature intended. Let’s keep the ibises straight and the people gay!

In south Florida, mercury leeched into the Everglades for years, mainly from the burning of municipal and medical waste. Frederick said, “Most mercury sources are local rather than global — local enough that we can do something about it, such as installing scrubbers on smoke stacks.  Ecosystems respond very quickly to regulatory action when it comes to mercury.”

But how will the birds respond? If their diet is cleaned up, will they revert to being straight?

If they need a little help, then by George, we might’ve found an actual use for ex-gay groups. Ex-gay leaders can take ibises under their wing and lead them back to heterosexuality. The success rate can only be higher than it is with people.

Speaking of people, Frederick frets that “people will read this and immediately jump to the conclusion that humans eating mercury are going to be gay. I want to be very explicit that this study has nothing to say about that.”

Doubtless some parents have nonetheless purged their larder of tuna fish, tossed the thermometer, and made a date at the dentist’s to convert all of Junior’s mercury fillings. And if they hadn’t already banned from the house the music of Freddie Mercury, they have now.

Frederick also said that what’s true for ibises isn’t necessarily true for other species, even other bird species. So jump to no conclusions about a couple of male green herons that adore each other’s company. Make no assumptions about the two roseate spoonbills with a passion for pomegranate martinis.

The turtles that hide during mating season are simply shy. And the alligators that agree they’d make lovely boots are just metrosexual.

I visited South Florida this past year, and I watched ibises. I admit to my shame that I didn’t notice any gay goings-on. This is probably because I can’t tell males from females.

I needed obvious indicators of homosexuality. Now, had two canoodling birds sported Prada shoes, I would’ve caught on.

Leslie Robinson should learn to tell male from female. E-mail her at lesarobinson@gmail.com, and check out her blog at GeneralGayety.com.

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

—  Michael Stephens