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 It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.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

Office of Personnel Management Rolls Out Benefit for Partners of Federal Workers

Yesterday, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a memorandum instructing federal agencies to allow their employees to take leave without pay to attend to educational and medical needs of a same-sex partner’s child or elderly relative. Under a 1997 order by President Clinton, federal employees have been permitted to take up to 24 hours of unpaid leave for family support purposes, such as attending parent-teacher conferences or accompany a child or elderly relative to a routine checkup – purposes for which employees would otherwise have to use vacation time. Yesterday’s announcement makes such leave equally available to federal employees with same-sex domestic partners.

President Obama included this benefit in his June 2010 memorandum identifying additional benefits that could be extended to the same-sex partners of federal employees without additional action by Congress. However, extending key benefits – such as health insurance and retirement plans – does require legislation, and HRC continues to push Congress to pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, a bill that would ensure that LGBT federal workers and their families have access to those critical protections.

More information for federal workers on how to utilize family support leave is available here.


Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

DART accused of transphobia

Judge reversed order after transit agency fought longtime employee’s gender-marker change last year

John Wright | News Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

TRANS FRIENDLY? | Judge Lynn Cherry, right, is shown alongside drag performer Chanel during Stonewall Democrats’ 2008 holiday party at the Round-Up Saloon. A few months later, Cherry ruled against a transgender DART employee and overturned a gender-marker change. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

DART stands accused of bigotry and transphobia after attorneys for the local transit agency intervened in family court last year to challenge a gender-marker change granted to an employee.

According to court records, a transgender DART employee obtained a court order in February 2009 directing all state agencies to correct their records by changing her gender-marker from male to female, including on her birth certificate.

As Dallas Voice reported last week, many Dallas County judges have been routinely granting gender-marker changes to transgender people who meet set criteria — including documentation from licensed medical personnel — since the Democratic sweep of 2006.

The DART employee, who’s name is being withheld to protect her anonymity, later presented the court order to the transit agency’s human resources department and requested that her personnel records be changed to reflect her new gender.

But DART’s attorneys objected to the gender-marker change and responded by filing a motion seeking a rehearing in court. DART’s objections prompted 301st Family District Court Judge Lynn Cherry to reverse her order granting the gender-marker change.

“Where does this stop when an employer can start interfering with your personal life and family law decisions?” said longtime local transgender activist Pamela Curry, a friend of the DART employee who brought the case to the attention of Dallas Voice. “She was devastated. This should be a serious concern to a lot of people — everybody — and I just think this story needs to be told.”

Judge Cherry, who received Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ Pink Pump Award for her support of the group last year, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week.

Morgan Lyons, a spokesman for DART, noted that Cherry reversed her order before the agency actually filed its motion for a rehearing. However, Curry alleges that DART’s attorneys met with Cherry privately and pressured her into reversing the order.

As is common with gender-marker changes, the case file has been sealed, but Dallas Voice obtained copies of some of the court documents from Curry.

In their motion for a rehearing, DART attorneys Harold R. McKeever and Hyattye Simmons argued that Texas law grants registrars, not judges, the authority to amend birth certificates. They also argued that birth certificates could be amended only if they were inaccurate at the time of birth.

“It’s not a DART issue, it’s a point of law,” Lyons told Dallas Voice this week, in response to the allegations of bigotry. “The lawyers concluded that the birth certificate could not be altered by law, unless there was a mistake made when the birth certificate was completed, and again, the judge changed the order before we even wound up going into court with it.”

Asked about DART’s LGBT-related employment policies, Lyons said the agency’s nondiscrimination policy includes sexual orientation but not gender identity/expression. The agency, which is governed by representatives from Dallas and numerous suburbs, also doesn’t offer benefits to the domestic partners of employees.

Lyons didn’t respond to other allegations made by Curry, including that the agency has fought the employee’s transition from male to female at every step of the way.

Curry, who helped the employee file her pro se petition for a gender-marker change, said the employee has worked for DART for more than 20 years and has an outstanding performance record.

The employee began to come out as transgender in 2003 and had gender reassignment surgery more than three years ago, Curry said. Curry said DART supervisors have at various times told the employee that she couldn’t have long hair, couldn’t wear skirts to work and couldn’t use women’s restrooms at work.

The employee has responded by showing up at work in her uniform so she doesn’t have to change and using public restrooms on her bus route, Curry said.

Supervisors have also told the employee she can’t talk to the media and can’t join political groups, such as Stonewall Democrats, Curry said.

“She’s intimidated and she’s scared,” Curry said. “One supervisor even suggested to her that if she doesn’t lay off it, they will mess up her retirement.”

Elaine Mosher, a Dallas attorney who’s familiar with the case, also questioned why DART intervened. Mosher didn’t represent the employee in the case but has handled gender-marker changes for other clients.

Mosher said the employee’s gender doesn’t have any bearing on her ability to do her job at DART.

“My argument in any gender marker matter is, the birth certificate was wrong, that’s why they had to go through the transition surgery, in essence to put them in the correct gender,” Mosher said. “All I can tell you is that it seems strange to me that DART would care one way or another what the gender marker of anybody that works for them is.”

Moster added that she believes someone at DART may have been “freaked out” by the employee’s transition from male to female and developed a “vendetta” against her.

“I wish I had a good explanation for why [DART got involved] other than the fact that I know there are people out there who are utterly blind and prejudiced for no other reason than they are,” Mosher said. “I compare it to some of the nonsense African-Americans had to live through in the ’60s.”

Mosher also said she’s “very surprised” that Cherry reversed the order granting the gender marker change.

Erin Moore, president of Stonewall Democrats, said she’s heard “bits and pieces” of the story but isn’t sure of all the facts.

Moore said in response to her questions about the case, Cherry told her she couldn’t talk about it because it’s still within the timeframe for a possible appeal.

“Lynn is a longtime supporter of Stonewall and I would think she would be fair in the case,” Moore said. “I’m confident she’s an ally to this community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2010.

—  admin