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 It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.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

Resource Center schedules DADT repeal reception

Gainer to donate his SLDN archive to the Phil Johnson Library

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Resource Center Dallas will hold a reception on Sept. 20 to mark the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

As part of the event, gay Air Force veteran Dave Guy Gainer will donate his archive of material related to the repeal to the Phil Johnson Library housed at the center.

“I’m reducing the fire load at my house,” Gainer joked.

The donation includes photos, Congressional reports, studies, hand-outs and newspaper articles that fill a number of boxes.

“It’s one of the largest donations we’ve ever gotten from one person,” said Resource Center Dallas Strategic Communications and Programs Manager Rafael McDonnell.

Gainer retired from the Air Force as a chief master sergeant before DADT went into effect. He has served as a board member of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network since 2005.Before that he was chapter president of American Veterans for Equal Rights before becoming regional and then national vice president of that organization.

Gainer called the end of DADT the “beginning of a new era.” He said he hopes his donation will help researchers studying the policy as a piece of history.

He said he has already been contacted several times by students writing papers and theses on the topic of gays serving in the military.

“If we can’t tell our stories as a community, we can’t hope to be truly a part of a bigger society,” Gainer said. “It’s important to give documents like these to research libraries to tell our stories factually.”

The reception at the Resource Center runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

McDonnell said the event would honor not just military personnel that were discharged under the DADT policy but all LGBT veterans.

“We specifically want to get word out to get LGBT vets here to say ‘Thank you for your service,’” McDonnell said.

SLDN is compiling a list of events that will take place around the country on Sept. 20, the day that the repeal becomes final. A number of parties are scheduled around Texas.

Most of the celebrations in the state will take place in bars, and after the Resource Center reception, the party in Dallas will move to Pekers on Oak Lawn Avenue.

Houston will mark the day with a celebration at JR.’s Bar and Grill, 808 Pacific Street from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. The San Antonio repeal party begins at 6 p.m. at Sparky’s Pub, located at 1416 N. Main St.

The organizer of the Austin event wrote that they “expect active-duty service members will attend from Fort Hood and other nearby installations, along with scores of our supporters. Please bring your friends. Anyone 18 and older may attend.”

The statement is signed by “Brigadier General Virgil A. Richard, United States Army (Ret) and Chaplain (Colonel) Paul W. Dodd, United States Army (Ret).”

Ironically, Austin will mark the first day that military personnel can openly speak about being gay or lesbian at a bar called Hush.

Hush is located down the street from the Capitol at 408 N. Congress St. The event begins at 6 p.m. Food will be served and each person who attends will get a free drink.

P-FLAG El Paso organized that city’s celebration with several local LGBT groups. The party will take place at San Antonio Mining Company, 800 East San Antonio Ave. Cake and champagne will be served.

DADT was enacted in 1993 as compromise legislation. Previously gay and lesbian servicemembers who were outed were given dishonorable discharges. The new law was supposed to end anti-gay witch hunts in the military.

The repeal legislation was passed in December 2010. Then each branch of the service had to certify that it had prepared for the change.

On July 22, after the head of each branch of the service had signed off that it was prepared for the repeal, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the president and the secretary of defense certified to the armed services committees of both houses of Congress that the military was ready for final enactment.

According to the legislation, the repeal goes into effect 60 days after certification, which falls on Sept. 20.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Israel appoints gay activist as labor court judge

(Dori Spivak) דורי ספיבק

While Israel’s executive branch has become quite conservative, it’s judicial branch always has been very liberal.

This week, LGBT rights activist Dori Spivak was appointed to the national labor court in Tel Aviv, according to the Israeli newspaper Ma’Ariv. While other openly gay judges have been appointed in the past, his appointment is being hailed as the first appointment of someone who has advocated for LGBT rights.

Spivak, a graduate of Harvard, is best known for serving as chairman of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. In 1997, he won a case in the Supreme Court that allowed Israeli television to air a program about gay teens.

Ma’Ariv, a moderate Israeli newspaper, opens its coverage of the appointment by saying, “The appointment of attorney Dori Spivak as judge to make waves.”

But the concerns the newspaper details have nothing to do with Spivak’s sexual orientation. They worry about his appointment to a court that has ruled in the past that a company doesn’t have a religion so that forbidding work on Sabbath is not relevant. They also voice concern over how he might rule on cases brought by settlers in the West Bank.

“Nevertheless, controversial political views should not disqualify a candidate for judicial office,” the newspaper concludes without mentioning anything about his sexual orientation.

All of Israel’s LGBT rights have been gained through the courts, including pension benefits for same-sex partners of military personnel, recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere and adoption rights.

—  David Taffet

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

UPDATE: Hutchison to vote against DADT repeal because ‘FORMER leaders’ of military oppose it

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office sent over the following statement this afternoon in response to our inquiry about her position on a standalone measure to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell.”

“I will not support a repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy,” Hutchison said. “After speaking with military personnel and former leaders of our armed services, I remain very concerned about how repealing this policy could negatively impact unit cohesion and overall troop readiness — especially during a time of war.”

It’s interesting that Hutchison doesn’t identify the “military personnel” or “former leaders” with whom she claims to have spoken. We know, for example, that she’s repeatedly refused to meet with Dave Guy-Gainer, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who lives in Tarrant County. According to a recently released Pentagon study, the “military personnel” who spoke to Hutchison are in the minority. Furthermore, why would she speak with “former leaders of our armed services” instead of current ones? The top two current military leaders, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, both support DADT repeal. And all of the current service chiefs say repeal would be no problem.

So can someone please explain WTF she’s talking about?

UPDATE: Maybe she’s been spending too much time with homophobic Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos.

—  John Wright

Despite court order, the military is still enforcing ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ — at least in Texas

Omar Lopez, who was kicked out of the Navy in 2006 for “homosexual admission,” tried to re-enlist on Wednesday but was turned away at a recruiting office in Austin.

Sometime Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Justice reportedly will request an emergency stay of Tuesday’s federal district court ruling ordering the military to halt enforcement of “don’t ask don’t tell.” And in the meantime, it would appear as though the Department of Defense is openly defying the ruling, perhaps putting the federal government in contempt of court. The New York Times reported Thursday:

But with the ultimate fate of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule still unclear, some celebrations are being delayed.

With a briefcase full of commendations under his arm, Omar Lopez walked into an Austin, Tex., recruiting office Wednesday. Mr. Lopez, 29, had served nearly five years in the Navy. He was honorably discharged in 2006 for “homosexual admission,” according to documents he carried. He wanted to re-enlist.

But recruiters turned him away hastily, saying they had no knowledge of any injunction or any change in military policy.

“I like the civilian world, but I miss it,” Mr. Lopez said of the military, as he arrived with a worker for Get Equal, a gay rights advocacy group. “I feel lost without it.”

The NYT report prompted a letter from the attorney for Log Cabin Republicans, which brought the lawsuit, to the Department of Justice:

“Please let us know immediately what steps the government has taken to communicate the terms and requirements of the Court’s order to military personnel, including field commanders and military recruiting offices, who are in a position to violate the requirements of the injunction under the cover of ignorance of its terms or existence,” wrote LCR attorney Dan Woods.

—  John Wright

DADT update: Local SLDN board member blasts survey of troops; trial begins in Log Cabin lawsuit challenging policy

Dave Guy-Gainer

As it prepares for the end of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military is doing something unprecedented: asking the troops what they think.

“With my affiliation with SLDN, the advice is not to participate,” said Dave Guy-Gainer, a local board member for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

“Even though the survey goes to a secure public site,” Guy-Gainer said, “you’re still vulnerable if you complete the survey on a government computer.”

When the military first announced it needed six months to study the end of DADT, Guy-Gainer was against the delay. But when he heard they were studying things like benefits and housing for partners, he changed his mind. The survey, however, has raised new issues about the intent of the delay.

Questions on the survey include: “Do you currently serve with a male or female service member you believe to be homosexual?” and “Have you been assigned to share bath facilities with an open bay shower that is also used by a service member you believed to be homosexual?”

“It implies that you’re allowing people to vote,” Guy-Gainer said.

He gave several examples of the military implementing changes without surveying the opinion of troops.

“A few months ago, the Navy put women on submarines, and no one asked about the women,” he said.

Members of the Armed Forces weren’t polled when President Harry S. Truman integrated the troops, when President Gerald Ford made military institutes co-ed or when President Jimmy Carter placed women on battleships.

And questions on the survey appear to be homophobic.

Guy-Gainer has said troops aren’t in Gomer Pyle-style barracks, sleeping in bunk beds and using group showers. Yet, those are the level of questions apparently being asked in the survey.

Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, acknowledged that the troops have never been surveyed like this before and that the military is not a democracy. But Levin added that he doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with gauging the attitude of the troops. He said the final decision rests with Congress, and the military will be expected to follow it.

Guy-Gainer said the survey is optional, not mandatory. He said he’s afraid those who are homophobic have more incentive to respond while those who are sympathetic to gays and lesbians in the military are afraid of how their answers will be used.

He called the survey unnecessary.

“The working group can identify all the rules and regulations that need to be changed,” he said. “What happens to good order and discipline?”

This week a trial opened in California with Log Cabin Republicans challenging the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Attorneys for Log Cabin used President Barack Obama’s words in their opening statements, according to the Associated Press. Log Cabin argued that maintaining the policy doesn’t advance the government’s interest.

UPDATE: In related news, the Associated Press reported Wednesday morning that prosecutors have dropped all charges against Lt. Dan Choi, the gay veteran who has twice chained himself to the White House fence this year to protest DADT.

—  David Taffet