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 It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.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

Sheriff Lupe Valdez, a Democrat, on why she’s going to the Log Cabin Republicans Convention

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

The Log Cabin Republicans will hold their National Convention in Dallas this coming weekend, and we’ll have a full story in Friday’s print edition. But because the convention actually begins Thursday, we figured we’d go ahead and post the full program sent out by the group earlier this week.

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the program is a scheduled appearance by gay Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, who is of course a Democrat.

Valdez, who’ll be one of the featured speakers at a Saturday luncheon, contacted us this week to explain her decision to accept the invitation from Log Cabin (not that we necessarily felt it warranted an explanation). Here’s what she said: 

“We have more things in common than we have differences, but it seems like in politics we constantly dwell on our differences,” Valdez said. “If we continue to dwell on our differences, all we’re going to do is fight. If we try to work on our common issues, we’ll be able to accomplish some things.”

On that note, below is the full program. For more information or to register, go here.

—  John Wright

While U.S. Fumbles On DADT, Australia & Canada Accommodate Trans Servicemembers

One day Henny Penny was scratching in the farmyard looking for something good to eat when, suddenly, something hit her on the head. “My goodness me!” she said. “The sky must be falling down. I must go and tell the king.”

Henny Penny

Above is the opening paragraph to the traditional telling of the children’s story Henny Penny — Henny Penny being a hen who kept repeating the mistruth to all willing to listen that “The sky is falling!” Image: Australian FlagShe convinced her friends Cocky Locky, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey that the sky is falling along her way to the king — the king who never ended up hearing her message of doom — but the sky was never really falling.

As I watched the Family Research Council’s (FRC’s) November 30, 2010 Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) press conference, my mind kept wandering back to the signature line from Henny Penny: The sky is falling! As I’ve listened to the statements of Senator John McCain on DADT — as Senator McCain has rhetorically moved the goal posts on what it would take for him to vote for repeal of DADT — my mind keeps wandering back to the signature line from Henny Penny: The sky is falling!

We know, if only from the examples of other militaries in our allied countries who allow lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers to serve openly, that the sky won’t fall if DADT is repealed. The military will still be able to accomplish its missions if DADT should be repealed.

In fact, other allied countries are now figuring out how to accomplish the accommodation of transgender servicemembers. Image: Canadian FlagIn the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Sex-Change Soldier Forces Army To Scrap Transgender Policy, we learn that Australia is revamping their policy on transsexuals to clearly allow them to transition on active duty. And Pink News reported in their piece Canada’s Military Updates Uniform For Transgender Soldiers that Canada’s military has put together a new policy on how trans service members should be accommodated.

From the Pink News piece:

While debate continues in the US about openly gay troops, the Canadian military has been putting together a new policy on how trans soldiers should be treated, the National Post reports.

The policy says they should wear the uniform of their “target” gender but must be given privacy and respect. For example, no reason must be given when a person’s name is changed on military records.

The new policy does not allow military honours to be reassigned to new names, saying “there is no legal authority for rewriting history”.

Canada’s military first paid for gender treatment for a member in 1998 and deals with one or two trans troops every year.

So while the United States can’t seem to get past the stage of discussing whether or not lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers should be allowed to serve openly, some of our allies have moved on to accommodating the transitions of transsexual servicemembers.

I believe what Australia and Canada are at with their policies towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) servicemembers is where the United States should be in its discussions of LGBT servicemembers, but instead we’re still discussing whether or not LGB servicemembers should even be allowed to serve openly in the military services, let alone be accommodated in serving their country while in military uniforms.

The sky isn’t falling. We in the United States can allow lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers to serve openly in the military services, and still be extremely professional, and capable, of meeting mission requirements. The United States could go much further in accommodating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender servicemembers than just a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell that would accommodate LGB servicemembers, and still be able to capably and professionally meet the country’s military mission requirements.

That the United States still is functioning with antiquated policy regarding LGBT servicemembers says something about my country, and what it says isn’t particularly good.

Hat Tip to Monica Helms and Robin McGeehee. Emoticon: Hat tip
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Video: Can you tell which of these servicemembers are gay? Exactly.




Good As You

—  admin

Servicemembers United: Valerie Jarrett Has Some Explaining to Do

So apparently White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett will be a guest speaker at the HRC gala fundraiser tomorrow night (see Pam's diary here). I have some questions for her, as I'm sure do you all. I, for one, would love to know if Jarrett can explain why her boss found time to personally call the WNBA champions to congratulate them, but he couldn't manage to have a staffer call the offices of Blanche Lincoln, Mark Pryor, or either of the Maine twins on the day of the failed Senate vote on DADT repeal. Servicemembers United also has some questions for Jarrett, and issued the following statement today:

Gay, Lesbian Veterans Call on White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett to Meet, Discuss DADT Repeal Before Gay Fundraiser Appearance

Jarrett’s Appearance at Gay Fundraising Gala Called “Insulting” in Light of Administration Inaction on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

10/08/2010

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Servicemembers United, the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, today called on White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett to meet with gay and lesbian veterans to talk about the administration’s inaction on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before appearing at a black-tie fundraising gala for the Human Rights Campaign tomorrow in Washington, DC. Jarrett’s appearance at the gala fundraiser was announced today by the Human Rights Campaign, which also called both Jarrett and the president “strong supporters of those of those of us fighting for LGBT rights.”

“We certainly do not feel like the White House is a ‘strong supporter’ of gay and lesbian troops and veterans right now,” said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army human intelligence collector who was also discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “Before she appears at a black-tie fundraiser to tout the administration’s ‘strong support,’ Jarrett should meet and talk with those who have actually been impacted by this discriminatory law and who continue to fight this uphill battle for the lives and livelihoods of gay and lesbian troops. To ignore the reality of the administration’s choices, a reality manifested in our daily lives, while appearing at a party hosted by an organization that has given cover to this administration would be incredibly insulting.”

Nicholson added that a top-notch group of recent gay and lesbian veterans who are also involved in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal movement are ready to meet with Jarrett for a respectful dialogue on Friday or Saturday.

For more information about Servicemembers United and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” please visit www.ServicemembersUnited.org.

I dare Valerie Jarrett to meet with SU's team, to look LGBT veterans in the eye, and try to explain her boss's “fierce advocacy.” I'm willing to meet with her personally and explain exactly how “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” has trashed my life. There are 14,000+ stories like mine, and Valerie Jarrett should be willing to take the time to hear at least one before going off to give political cover to our “fierce advocate” at HRC's self-congratulating salon tomorrow night.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright

GetEQUAL visits Senator Jim Webb. Servicemembers leave their combat boots.


Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) voted against the compromise DADT amendment in the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 27th. He’s getting a visit from GetEQUAL today, which you can follow on GetEQUAL’s Facebook page and via twitter. Servicemembers will be leaving their combat boots for Webb, which is a powerful symbol. During the 2006 campaign, Webb wore the combat boots of his son who was serving in Iraq.

We’ll have more on this soon.

Also, SLDN released its target list — and Webb is uncommitted on the filibuster:

KEY SENATORS UNCOMMITTED ON BREAKING THE FILIBUSTER:

–Susan Collins (R-ME)

–Olympia Snowe (R-ME)

–Mark Pryor (D-Ark.);

–Richard Lugar (R-IN);

–Judd Gregg (R-NH);

–Jim Webb (D-VA)

–George Voinovich (R-OH);




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright

More Than Linguists: Servicemembers United Repeal Ad 3 – active duty

So we have our first active duty webad.  The fact that we're using someone still in is compelling – as it's meant to be – but only as a means to gain attention.  The deeper talking point here is how comprehensive the affects of DADT really are.

Take a gander:


The focus on linguists discharged under DADT began with a story broke by the Center for the Study of Sexual Minorities in the Military (CSSMM, now the Palm Center) in November of 2002, when 7 Arabic linguists were discharged under DADT.  Their respective discharges did not only affect them in various and horrendous fashion, but the entire morale of the unit, both gay and straight folks. 

The gay service members – mostly open – began to suffer paranoia that they would be next, while the straight janes and joes lost respect for the institution of the military over such a ridiculous and unecessary law.  None were happy to see their friends go through this process.  I remember – I was there.  This was my unit. 

In later assignments, the one complaint I heard from Arabic linguist friends returning from overseas was that there was not enough of them.  Intelligence was backlogged, missions had insufficiant linguistic support, and existing linguists were overworked beyond what would be reasonable in a position that demands precision and accuracy.  I asked my friend John if it would it have helped his unit out if soldiers like Alastair Gamble were still in the service.  "That would have divided my workload in half," he sighed.  Responsible for translating Arabic for an entire Brigade, John couldn't give two shits that Gamble was gay.

When a service member is discharged from the military, it's not just them that is affected, but their entire unit, and every future unit in which they could have served.  Each service member discharged represents years of contributions to the military that are incredibly useful, particularly in these critical fields. 

But it is the unit that is missing those contributions, and it is the unit that would benefit from repeal. 

We're working hard at SU to raise the funds to put these ads on the air.  Stop by www.militaryreadiness.org to find out how you can help us educate the American pubic in this critical time before the September vote, as well as keep the momentum going.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  John Wright

Servicemembers United Action Fund takes on the oppostion to DADT repeal

Servicemembers United Action Fund has launched a new website, MilitaryReadiness.org, and a new ad campaign to push for repeal of DADT. Here’s the first ad with Staff Sergeant Brian Muller, a former Army Bomb Disposal Technician, who was discharged under DADT. Via press release:

“This new ad, and the subsequent ads that will be released each week, helps put a human face on the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ issue for a national mainstream audience and effectively demonstrates how this outdated law actually harms military readiness,” said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United and the Servicemembers United Action Fund.


At Pam’s House Blend, SU’s Jarrod Chlapowski explains the campaign, which he promises will “hard-hitting” and “show why repealing DADT will improve military readiness”:

For this ad we focused on addressing the effects of open service and the impact of losing critical talent.

Today’s opposition tends to either believe that open service would be detrimental to the oft-repeated concepts of unit cohesion, troop morale, and combat readiness; that it would be in the best interest of the military to hold off on repeal until after we’ve completed our current overseas obligations; or that the US should not move on repeal in Congress until after the Pentagon working group completes its review in December of this year.

The logic behind all three arguments is that open service would to some degree be detrimental to military readiness, that conflict and disarray would inevitably result. This video shows – and SU’s subsequent videos will show – that the exact opposite is actually true.

We as a community sometimes have a tendency to focus on how horrible DADT is and how detrimental it is to the military’s mission. While true, these points do not address or challenge the perspective that the existence of openly serving gays and lesbians will be damaging to the military too. The experiences of those who were able to successfully serve openly under DADT for a period of time – those like Brian – do address this fundamental opposition claim.

Again, this is the first in a series of ads. Please, pass this video around, spread the word. And check out the web ad campaign’s homepage while you’re at it.

We’re not done fighting DADT, and neither are you. See you next week.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright

Servicemembers United obliterates Geoff Morrell’s flawed defense of the DADT study

Last week, Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell held a last-minute press conference to rebut criticism of the DADT survey. Kerry Eleveld, who participated in and recorded Morrell’s presser, posted the transcript here.

Clearly, the Pentagon is on edge about this survey. It’s gotten nothing but criticism since it was announced. Servicemembers United has led the critique. And, today, SU provided an in-depth respond to Morrell. I posted the full response on Scribd.com and its embedded below. Let’s just say, SU eviscerates Morrell’s attempt to justify the survey.

From SU’s press release:

Servicemembers United, the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, today released a detailed response memo to rebut the numerous false and misleading claims made by Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell about Servicemembers United’s criticism of the biased DADT survey released last week. The survey, which was created and administered by the research firm Westat in conjunction with the Comprehensive Review Working Group, was sent out to 400,000 non-deployed active duty and reserve component troops at a cost to taxpayers of .4 million.

“Unfortunately, the Pentagon’s responses to Servicemembers United’s criticism of the DADT survey mirror the survey itself – flawed,” said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army interrogator who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “We continue to maintain that the Defense Department just shot itself in the foot by releasing such a flawed survey to 400,000 servicemembers, and it did so at an outrageous cost to taxpayers.”

Here’s the full response. Worth a read. SU totally dismantles Morrell’s key arguments:
Servicemembers United response to Pentagon spokesperson




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright

Servicemembers United: Refund Taxpayers For Insulting DADT Survey

Servicemembers United wants the feds to get back the .4M they paid for the DADT survey.

The Department of Defense just paid the research firm Westat the outrageous sum of .4 million to design and administer an email-based survey about the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. While its development was shrouded in secrecy for weeks, leaked copies of the final version recently began circulating. To everyone’s surprise, the survey, which went out to 400,000 service members, turned out to be laced with bias, inaccuracies, and derogatory assumptions and insinuations about gay and lesbian Americans. Demand that Westat and the Pentagon repay the American Taxpayer for this outrageous waste of .4 million!

Their petition is here.

Joe. My. God.

—  John Wright