Additional states turn away National Guard spouses, one reverses itself

MilitaryPartnerMore states are following Texas’ lead and refusing to process ID cards for same-sex spouses of National Guard troops, American Military Partner Association reports, but one state reversed course.

Indiana and South Carolina joined Texas this week in sending same-sex spouses of National Guard troops to federal facilities to register. Both states accept applications from opposite-sex spouses.

But after further legal review, Indiana reversed itself and again began taking applications at National Guard bases.

“We applaud the Indiana National Guard for doing the right thing,” said Stephen Peters, president of AMPA. “We urge other state national guards who are refusing to comply with the Defense Department directive to process all spouses for federal benefits to immediately follow suit.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking member of the House Armed Service Committee, wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking him to intervene.

Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi also began signing up all spouses but then stopped after Texas turned away applicants. In Texas, Alicia Butler was turned away from Camp Mabry on the first day same-sex spouses could sign up for IDs and is now being represented by Lambda Legal’s Dallas office.

—  David Taffet

Miss. joins Texas in refusing to process applications from gay military families

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Gov. Rick Perry

Mississippi has joined Texas in refusing to process applications for military ID cards for same-sex spouses. Texas has a total ban on processing applications. Mississippi won’t issue applications from state-owned offices.

Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry weighed in on the controversy and said Texas Military Forces is a state agency and must obey state law.

The Oklahoma National Guard only received one inquiry the first day applications were being accepted. That couple is not yet married.

“As long as the soldier presents that marriage certificate or license, then we would treat that claim just like we would any other soldier that brings in a marriage license or certificate,” Oklahoma National Guard spokesman Col. Max Moss said.

The American Military Partner Association, a group that supports spouses of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, launched a petition targeting Perry: “Tell Governor Rick Perry to Stop Playing Politics with our Military Families in Texas!” and encouraged signers to swamp his office with calls.

“Our military families have enough challenges to deal with. The last thing they need is more discrimination from Governor Rick Perry of Texas!” the petition states. “Under his leadership, the Texas National Guard is refusing to enroll same-sex military spouses for military benefits at state supported military facilities. Tell Governor Perry to stop playing politics with our military families! Sign the petition then call his office at (512) 463-1782 or (512) 463-2000.”

Sign it by going here.

—  David Taffet

A call for ad rates made us realize we had been the victim of discrimination

The Dallas Voice classified department received a call today from an agency asking for rates. That’s not unusual. But the client was an unexpected one — the U.S. Army.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal law says that gays and lesbians can serve. What it doesn’t assure is any equality. There is no mandate to seek out gay and lesbian recruits. No general handed down orders to make sure there are plenty of LGB troops.

What the call indicates is that recruiters are ahead of the vocal opponents of repeal. Now that they can recruits gays and lesbians — why not?

What the call also pointed out was another unintended consequence of DADT. The law hurt LGBT businesses. While the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard were spending money advertising in every other media outlet, gay media received none of that income.

Not only was the federal government discriminating against gay and lesbian soldiers, but by not advertising in LGBT publications, they were discriminating against LGBT businesses. Ironically, it wasn’t until the Army came to us for a rate card that we realized we were among the victims of DADT.

—  David Taffet

‘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.

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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

How ’bout DADT?

Memoir about being gay in the Army resonates with timeliness, vivid prose

booksThey’ve become familiar sights: Auditoriums filled with uniformed, spine-straight soldiers on their way to deployment, or smiling men and women, arms full of family, on their way home. No matter what auditorium they’re in, no matter which small town or big city, you can bet that the first group is wondering what the second group has seen.

They may never know, though, because much is buried and more is classified. But military secrets aren’t the only secrets kept in times of war. In The Last Deployment, you’ll learn one of them.

Bronson Lemer was “probably the last person anyone expected to join the military,” he writes. But as the oldest of six children, he wanted to get away from North Dakota, and the Army “happened to be at the right place at the right time.”

Lemer was still in high school when he joined the National Guard; five years later, on Jan. 20, 2003, his cell phone rang. Though he was months away from getting out of his Guard obligation and was “tired” of service, Lemer learned that he was being deployed. What he calls his “horrible decision” to join the National Guard was turning into something he never thought he’d have to worry about: Lemer was a gay soldier under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

In going to Iraq, he knew he had to learn to rely on his fellow soldiers, and vice versa. He tried to relax as he traveled with them to Colorado and, later that spring, to Kosovo, then to Iraq. Lemer went along with the jokes, the girlfriend talk and the adolescent behavior. He participated in anything that banished the boredom of guard duty, cleaning duty, outhouse duty. He emailed a former love and longed for home.

As a few months’ tour of duty stretched into a year, Lemer began to notice something: Deployment was taking its toll on everybody. The men and women who left the States were not the same people who came home from Iraq. And neither was Lemer.

Over the past decade, you’ve undoubtedly seen lots of TV and read many words about the war in Iraq. But just wait until you get your hands on The Last Deployment. Lemer’s memoir of being a gay man in the military is half-sassy, half sad with a few heart-pounding moments though no blood and guts. His story moves between idyllic memories of his growing-up and warm feelings for his bunkmates and co-soldiers, while readers are also placed in the center of the boredom of waiting, the frustration of not knowing and the dismay of hiding in order to be accepted. Lemer’s is a wonderfully descriptive, wryly humorous, heart-crushing story, and I couldn’t put it down.

With the repeal of DADT effective this month, this is timely and definitely worth a read. If you love a soldier, your country, or both, The Last Deployment is a book you’ll want to tell everybody about.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas