Named Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition last year, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, is an ally who comes to NBJC after eight years at the People For the American Way (PFAW) Foundation. She has been battling discrimination against LGBTs and bringing allies into the fold by leading the Homophobia in the Black Church program at PFAW through its African American Religious Affairs division.
She recently contacted me to say she was taking a personal step to fight for repeal of DADT by sharing her personal story to relay how it matters that gays and lesbians serving in silence are denied what she and her husband have as a military family.
My husband is a proud member of the United States Air Force. A military career man. While he was stationed in Iraq, the moral support that helped him survive came through our letters, our calls, our communications, our connection. He had something magical to hold onto as he moved through every moment unsure that he would live to see the next. Without our mutual support of one another, the daily uncertainty about his safety and well being would have been more debilitating than any human should have to endure. In all of America’s wars, men and women have relied upon partners back home to keep their spirits up, to keep their sanity intact, to remind them that they are loved dearly, and to inspire them to conquer the inconceivable.
But what if I were a man and we were a gay couple? How could I then reach out across the miles to offer comfort and support? He would have to conceal our correspondence for fear of being outed and then fired. Sometimes we’d be forced to forego speaking to one another for his own security.
This is the reality of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), a U.S. military policy that bars openly gay men and women from serving in the armed forces. The thought of not being able to talk to my husband–or for him not to be able to communicate with me because of an unjust military law–is unconscionable. Brave men and women who are gay and lesbian are being pressured to suppress their identity and to compromise their personal integrity under DADT. They are barred from discussing their family life and their partners.
They are required to lie about who they are everyday in order to protect and serve their country, and this act would take a tremendous toll on anyone. Adding insult to injury, the Department of Defense (DOD) has issued an offensive survey to spouses of servicemembers to determine the impact on our desire to be in social settings with gay men and lesbians serving openly, i.e., honestly, in the military. Personally, I don’t see what all of the excitement and concern is about. I can’t wait to welcome my gay and lesbian servicemembers and their spouses over for dinner.
Seriously, we are all concerned about the mental health of our servicemembers. Too many have returned with post-traumatic stress disorder or worse, resorting to suicide as a means of coping. But what about the traumas that are being inflicted by our own government against people who have boldly chosen to defend this country? For gay and lesbian servicemembers, there is the added stress and psychological damage from living a lie, serving in fear that they will be discovered, outed, and then fired for who they are. And if they tell the truth, there is hell to pay–loss of employment, benefits, career, status, and possibly something even more injurious, loss of faith in America.
More below the fold.
So where is the humanity in DADT? My husband hung on my every word, spent hours in the internet cafe connecting with me, looked at my photo as much as possible just to get through each day. What if I were a man? He would have been forced to duck into corners to talk to me and to sometimes forego any form of communication to protect his job. Isn’t it enough to endure the stress of war? Should our servicemembers also have to endure the stress of government-sanctioned identity suppression?
When the military integrated to include women, they figured out how to accommodate bathrooms for men and women. When the military integrated to include Blacks, they figured out how to house everyone together. Surely, the Department of Defense can find a way to support the integrity of men and women who have already enrolled in the armed forces without sending out offensive surveys.
We worry about terrorists and meanwhile some of us think it’s appropriate to require those who defend this country to suppress and lie about who they really are.
How dare any of us rob our active duty brothers and sisters of mental and emotional support from family, loved ones and spouses, be they gay or straight.
This is about love, integrity, self-respect, self-worth and most importantly, this is about family and support.
As a military spouse, I stand with every servicemember and their loved ones, especially my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, who are putting their lives on the line just like my husband has done for 25 years of active duty.
As the Executive Director and CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition, an organization dedicated to eliminating racism and homophobia in America, I affirm the just cause of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I want to thank all gay and lesbian servicemembers for their fortitude and patriotism. Thank you for remaining faithful to America and the promises of the United States Constitution, despite your lack of freedom to serve openly and honestly.
Secretary Gates, put that on my survey!
Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks is the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), which is a national civil rights organization dedicated to empowering black LGBT people. NBJC’s mission is to eradicate racism and homophobia. For more information about NBJC, visitwww.nbjc.org.
There will be a gathering of black LGBT leaders on the Hill September 15-18 during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 40th Annual Legislative Conference – More information, click the image below (PDF):
When the Pentagon’s survey was released over the weekend, Servicemembers United’s Executive Director Alex Nicholson issued a statement, but promised a more thorough analysis today. That analysis has arrived in the form of a briefing memo titled, Assessment of the 2010 DoD Comprehensive Review Survey of Service Member Spouses, which can be found here as a pdf. The actual survey is embedded in this post.
Here’s the statement from Alex, which accompanied the release of the briefing memo:
“While it is wise to solicit and consider military spouse input on policy changes that will have a major impact on military families, it is extremely unwise to do so for issues that have minimal impact on spouses while also using poorly designed, biased and derogatory survey instruments,” 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.” “The Pentagon should be concerned with real family readiness issues like excessive deployments, inadequate mental health screenings and support, low troop pay, reductions in housing subsidies for military families, and inadequate spousal employment support instead of spending .4 million on a politically-motivated and unnecessary survey about gays and lesbians.”
And, here’s an excerpt from the memo:
14) Question 29: “Assume Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and your spouse is deployed. Would the presence of a partner of a gay or lesbian Service member affect how often you attend deployment-support activities?” (and one similar question – question 35)
This has to be the single most insensitive, disrespectful, selfish, and just plain cruel question in the entire spouse survey. The partners of gay and lesbian troops who are deployed hurt, worry, cry, stress, and suffer just as much – if not more, because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – than the partners and spouses of straight troops. To even entertain the idea, much less suggest it, that fleeting discomfort of straight partners and spouses should lead to denial of support for the agonizing partners of gay and lesbian troops is simply horrendous, cruel, and inhumane. Keep in mind that even the girlfriends and boyfriends of straight troops get some support during their partners’ deployments. So a straight one- night-stand is given a higher priority under current military policy – and this question – than a devoted partner of 20 years.
I stand by what I wrote on Saturday in my first post about the spouse’s survey:
You have to wonder how the hell the Pentagon came up with these questions. Makes me think Elaine Donnelly had a hand in writing the survey. And, we’ve been told repeatedly, the Pentagon study is about “how” to implement repeal, not “if.” But, everything we see from the Pentagon seems to be a lesson in how not to implement repeal.
NOTE FROM PAM: The reaction from Servicemembers United…
“This survey of military spouses contains many of the same insulting and derogatory assumptions and insinuations about gays and lesbians that ran throughout the last survey,” said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army Human Intelligence Collector who was discharged under “Don't Ask, Don't Tell.” “Answer choices suggest things like the Defense Department possibly distributing flyers in military neighborhoods if, as they say, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is repealed and that the 'readiness' of military families might somehow be impacted. Again we stress that neither the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff nor anyone else would ever stand for such insulting questions being asked about any other minority group in the military in this day and age. The Pentagon's senior leadership should seriously consider Servicemembers United's offer to meet with them in person to talk about the insensitivity of these surveys and how the poor handling of these surveys might negatively impact implementation.”
To be fair, promising reports broke Wednesday that a Pentagon spokes person called speaking to same-sex spouses a “high priority” for the working group. But upon closer examination, as with the original survey of troops, it does seem little thought was actually given to how to get around the problems inherent to DADT legislation.
Regardless, the survey indicates that the Pentagon Working Group learned little from the previous uproar and repeats many of the same errors. After the fold some select questions and commentary.
Granted this process was flawed from the start, both from a political and policy point.
Politically, slow walking any change is death. We saw how the GOP managed to turn the August break last year into “death panel”-palooza. As a strategy, slow-walking the repeal process may please the Pentagon, but it pleases no one else. Repeal advocates are frustrated and have hardly been quietier than they were when they were chaining themselves to the White House fence.
The discharge of Lt. Dan Choi and impending discharge of Lt Col. Victor Fahrenbach continue to make bad news for the administration. (See, July 10, 2010: Obama can't shake gay-rights fights). Fahrenbach's Hail Mary pass to save his career almost certainly will soon culminate in the Obama Justice Department marching into court to argue they can fire gay people just because they feel like it. We can argue whether they can do anything else, but it will be nails on a chalkboard for every LGBT American invested in being treated free of discrimination.
Meanwhile, the opposition still finds itself in a position to rally their own troops, creating their own distracting headlines and keeping the culture war alive.
“All the countries studied completed their implementations of repeal either immediately or within four months of the government’s decision to end discrimination. These experiences confirm research findings which show that a quick, simple implementation process is instrumental in ensuring success. Swift, decisive implementation signals the support of top leadership and confidence that the process will go smoothly, while a “phased-in” implementation can create anxiety, confusion, and obstructionism.”
“Anxiety, confusion and obstructionism?” Sound familiar? Here's the latest round.
8. Has your spouse ever worked on a daily basis with an individual he or she believed to be a homosexual Service member? Yes No Don't know
I just find this just so ridiculously over-dramatic.
11. If Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed, the military will want to prepare and assist spouses in understanding the new policy. How would you like the military to provide you with information on the new policy? MARK ALL THAT APPLY • No special activities or communications would be necessary • Distribute printed information to spouses about repeal • Provide information about repeal on military Web sites • Have interactive chats available on line to answer questions from Service member spouses • Provide information through military chaplains trained to work with spouses and family members on repeal • Provide information through military counselors trained to work with spouses and family members on repeal • Provide information through Family Readiness Group/Work-Life Program leaders trained to work with spouses and family members on repeal • Offer courses to spouses on how to discuss repeal within their families. • Other, please specify: ______
How much is there to explain? Daddy or mommy's co-worker isn't getting kicked out anymore.
I mean, courses?Courses? They're going to make a whole curriculum on this issue? Will it be accredited? Can you get your BA in “Mommy works with a Homo?” So the whole family can go in an learn how to tell little Bobby, “Ok, you know that girl Michelle that Daddy works with? At the end of the day, when she's done filling artillery shells, she goes home to a woman, not a man. She always did, but now the Army has decided that it's ok for her to say it out loud. So, we just want you to be prepared that Daddy's friend at work may say she's a “lesbian” sometime over the course of her workday with daddy. Do you know what a lesbian is?”
It's just absurd to me.
16. How important a factor would a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell be to you in making decisions about your spouse's future in the military? • Very important • Important • Neither important nor unimportant • Unimportant • Very unimportant • Don't Know
19. Would a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell affect your willingness to recommend military service to a family member or close friend? • Yes, I would be more likely to recommend military service to a family member or close friend • Yes, I would be less likely to recommend military service to a family member or close friend • No, it would not affect my willingness to recommend military service to a family member or close friend • Don't know
I seriously wonder, why bother asking this question? Can anything useful be gleaned from whether the spouses would recommend service? Of all the factors that influence the military's ability to recruit–compensation, safety, VA benefits, college tuition, economic climate, current military mission–does anyone imagine spouses attitudes about DADT could possibly have a measurable impact?
24. Assume Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed and you live on-base housing. If a gay or lesbian Service member lived in your neighborhood with their partner, would you stay on-base or try to move out? • I would stay on-base • I would try to move out • Don't Know • Does not apply, I would not live on-base
25. While living on-base, which of the following would you do? • I would make a special effort to get to know the gay or lesbian Service member • I would get to know them like any other neighbor • I would generally avoid them when I could • I would do nothing • I would do something else, please specify ______ • Don't know
These are the sorts of questions many heterosexuals may never understand why the very premise is so offensive. The very framing of “like” any other neighbor. Which of course they are not, they're gay, they're gay, they're gay! OMG! They're gay!
All my neighbors in my Brooklyn apartment building live daily with a gay neighbor (actually, several). I doubt they queried the landlord how many known homosexuals lived in the building before they signed their lease.
And life goes on. They water my plants when I'm out of town, and I'll move their clothes into the dryer if they ask me to and hand me the quarters.
The military taking time to survey such a thing is a validation of the viewpoint that objecting to living near a homosexual is somehow rational, somehow a viewpoint that should be considered. As Servicemeber's United's Alex Nicholson said of the last survey, “it is simply impossible to imagine a survey with such derogatory and insulting wording, assumptions, and insinuations going out about any other minority group in the military.”
The survey also hints that the DOD may shape their obligations to LGB servicemembers' spouses and partners around this popular vote. We see hints of this in the following questions.
27. Assume Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed. Would attendance of a gay or lesbian Service member with his or her partner affect how often you attend these types of military social events? • Yes, I would attend these types of military social events more often • Yes, I would attend these types of military social events less often • No, it would not affect my attendance at these types of military social events • Don't know
29. Assume Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed and your spouse is deployed. Would the presence of a partner of a gay or lesbian Service member affect how often you attend deployment-support activities? • Yes, I would attend deployment-support activities more often • Yes, I would attend deployment-support activities less often • No, it would not affect my attendance at deployment-support activities • Don't know
Will the answer to these questions determine whether LGB servicemembers' spouses are included or excluded from company events or support services?
Granted how the military goes forward on the issue of LGB partners is far from clear. DOMA prevents them from legally recognizing spouses, at least monetarily. They won't be given pensions, health insurance, placed in military housing. (Unless the military tried to use their time-honor deference from the Constitution to argue that DOMA–like freedom of speech and expression–does not apply to them. Hmmmm….? Pipe dream.)
But regardless, the topic has been put on the table. And even if the military stands up, does the right thing and implements a policy of inclusion, you've handed fuel to opponents. They will always be able to say, “But they asked our opinion and defied our will!” They will claim survey bias and victimhood at the gay agenda that brought in a fix. The issue will live for years.
“I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally it comes down to integrity — theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”
No, this survey process moves the whole debate over to “what the people want,” territory, “what's the consensus?” We're seeking common ground. And, realistically, political cover, but for what conclusion?
Family Readiness is defined as to how prepared military families are to handle the challenges of military life.
32. Assume Don't Ask, Don't Tell is repealed. Would repeal affect your family readiness? • Yes, it would improve my family readiness • Yes, it would reduce my family readiness • No, it would have no effect on my family readiness • Don't know
I just find this question laughable in its vagueness and lack of meaning.
And of course, it's sad a major civil right battle will be waged, possibly won or lost by whether someone's opinion of how it affects their “family readiness,” whatever that means.
“This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It's the right thing to do.”
I'm sorry. You don't get to claim the principled high ground in a televised speech for applause of a nation and then walk it back by following up and asking 550,000 other people “What do you think is the right thing to do? And you? And you? And you?”
The Pentagon has sent out the second part to its military survey on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", this time to approximately 150,000 military spouses, and it shows much of the same insensitivity that the first survey did.
The survey, according to Politico, was accompanied by a letter from Defense Sec'y Robert Gates, which read:
"“As you know, in his State of the Union address this year, President Obama called upon the Congress to repeal the law commonly known as Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Following that, I directed the Department of Defense to consider how to best implement a repeal of this law should that occur. This survey is part of that effort. Your responses to this survey will help us assess the impact of a change in the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law and policy on family readiness and recruiting and retention.”
Said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United, regarding the survey:
"This survey of military spouses contains many of the same insulting and derogatory assumptions and insinuations about gays and lesbians that ran throughout the last survey. Answer choices suggest things like the Defense Department possibly distributing flyers in military neighborhoods if, as they say, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is repealed and that the 'readiness' of military families might somehow be impacted. Again we stress that neither the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff nor anyone else would ever stand for such insulting questions being asked about any other minority group in the military in this day and age. The Pentagon's senior leadership should seriously consider Servicemembers United's offer to meet with them in person to talk about the insensitivity of these surveys and how the poor handling of these surveys might negatively impact implementation."
Servicemembers United obtained a copy of the Pentagon’s latest survey on DADT. (I I posted the survey on scribd.com and embedded it below.) This one goes to military spouses. Here’s the statement from SU’s Alex Nicholson:
“This survey of military spouses contains many of the same insulting and derogatory assumptions and insinuations about gays and lesbians that ran throughout the last survey,” said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army Human Intelligence Collector who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “Answer choices suggest things like the Defense Department possibly distributing flyers in military neighborhoods if, as they say, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is repealed and that the ‘readiness’ of military families might somehow be impacted. Again we stress that neither the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff nor anyone else would ever stand for such insulting questions being asked about any other minority group in the military in this day and age. The Pentagon’s senior leadership should seriously consider Servicemembers United’s offer to meet with them in person to talk about the insensitivity of these surveys and how the poor handling of these surveys might negatively impact implementation.”
Politico provides a recap of some of the questions — and they are insulting and derogatory:
The 13-page survey, similar to one sent to troops earlier this year, poses 44 questions on a range of topics. Among the questions:
“Assume Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed. If the partner of a gay or lesbian Service member participated in a family support program, would it affect your participation?”
“Assume Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed. Would repeal affect your family readiness?”
The survey also asks spouses if they live on base and how they would react to an openly gay or lesbian service member or partner living nearby. The list of answers include: “I would make a special effort to get to know the gay or lesbian service member and partner” or “I would generally avoid them when I could” or “I would do nothing.”
See for yourself. Here’s the survey. You have to wonder how the hell the Pentagon came up with these questions. Makes me think Elaine Donnelly had a hand in writing the survey. And, we’ve been told repeatedly, the Pentagon study is about “how” to implement repeal, not “if.” But, everything we see from the Pentagon seems to be a lesson in how not to implement repeal: Pentagon’s DADT Spouse Survey
The Marine officer, “Gordon,” is a 16-year Marine field grade officer currently assigned within the greater DC Beltway. Alex Nicholson of SU says:
He’s a VERY opinionated striaght-talker (no pun intended), so it should be quite a lively chat this evening – feel free to ask him anything!! If you’re around a computer, please do join us. And for those with blogs, twitter accounts, and hoards of FB followers, please also consider promoting it to your loyal readers and fans.
This is a CoverItLive blog event, so you will be able to see it on the front page of the Blend once it begins, and there is a separate link to a standalone window with the liveblog:
Joining me in the chat room tonight with “Gordon” will be my project partners from SU:
Alex Nicholson, Executive Director; Jarrod Chlapowski, Co-Founder.
The infamous survey is below the fold. The Pentagon commissioned Westat to do the survey, which was distributed to 400,000 active duty and reserve members of the armed forces. The survey is part of the Pentagon Working Group’s 10-month study of the potential impact of repeal of DADT on the force.
Servicemembers United had this reaction to the survey language when it was leaked:
Servicemembers United, the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, today strongly condemned the biased and derogatory design of the long-awaited Defense Department survey on issues related to the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. 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 troops at a cost to taxpayers of .4 million.
“While it remains safe for gay and lesbian troops to participate in this survey, it is simply impossible to imagine a survey with such derogatory and insulting wording, assumptions, and insinuations going out about any other minority group in the military,” 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.” “Unfortunately, this expensive survey stokes the fires of homophobia by its very design and will only make the Pentagon’s responsibility to subdue homophobia as part of this inevitable policy change even harder. 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.”
Nicholson added, “Flawed aspects of the survey include the unnecessary use of terms that are known to be inflammatory and bias-inducing in social science research, such as the clinical term ‘homosexual;’ an overwhelming focus on the potential negative aspects of repeal and little or no inclusion of the potential positive aspects of repeal or the negative aspects of the current policy; the repeated and unusual suggestion that a co-worker or leader might need to ‘discuss’ appropriate behavior and conduct with gay and lesbian troops; and more.”