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 It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.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

Trans woman murdered in Arkansas

WREG News Channel 3 out of Memphis, Tenn., has reported that trans woman Marcal Camero Tye was founded murdered near Forrest City, Ark. The murder is being investigated by Forrest

transgender murder victim
Marcal Camero Tye

City Police and by the St. Francis Sheriff’s Department.

The brief news report says that Tye had been shot and then dragged several hundred feet.

The report has also raised the ire of some activists, who in comments posted online, urged WREG to contact the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation for guidance on how to properly report on transgender issues and individuals. The WREG report refers to Tye as a man wearing a dress and a wig and uses male pronouns. It closes with the statement: “People we talked to in Forrest City said Tye was always dressed as a woman, caused no trouble and was liked.”

Forrest City is located just off Interstate 40, between Little Rock, Ark., and Memphis. WREG reports say that Tye’s body was found on Hwy. 334, which, according to an online map, is just south and east of Forrest City.

—  admin

More companies covering transgender surgery

List expected to grow as HRC adds benefit to Corporate Equality Index

LISA LEFF | Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — When Gina Duncan decided to undergo the medical treatment that would make her a woman, she had plenty to fear. The reactions of her children, her professional colleagues and friends. How her body would respond to hours on the operating table. If, at the end of it, she would look female enough so strangers wouldn’t gawk.

What the Orlando mortgage banker didn’t have to be anxious about was how she would pay for two of her surgeries. Her employer of 10 years, Wells Fargo, included breast augmentation and genital reconstruction as coverable expenses under its employee health plan. Duncan was told the San Francisco-based bank already had had 16 other employees transition to new genders and assigned a benefits specialist to walk her through the process.

“They had a template in place, and it was surprisingly supporting and mentally encouraging,” said Duncan, 55, who four years later still works for Wells Fargo. “So much of what I’d heard involved people who ended up losing their job, losing their family, losing their friends, becoming destitute.”

With little fanfare, more and more large corporations, including Coca-Cola, Campbell Soup and Walt Disney, have expanded their insurance coverage to meet the needs of transgender workers. The trend follows a concerted push by transgender rights advocates to get employers and insurers to see sex reassignment the way the American Medical Association does — as a medically indicated rather than an optional procedure.

“We understand people simply get appendicitis, and it is something our community deals with through insurance,” said Andre Wilson, who counsels companies on transgender issues as a senior consultant with San Francisco-based Jamison Green & Associates. “That’s what we need to understand about transsexualism. Not everybody will be diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder, and in fact, few people will be. But the people who are diagnosed with it really need treatment.”

Among the corporations providing transgender-inclusive health benefits are some leading Wall Street and Main Street brands.

American Express, Kraft Foods, AT&T, Yahoo!, Eastman Kodak, Sears, Morgan Stanley, Price Waterhouse, General Motors and State Farm are among 85 large businesses and law firms that cover the cost of at least one surgery, according to a 2010 survey by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights group.

The number is expected to spike this year, when HRC adds availability of surgery-inclusive medical benefits for transgender employees or transgender dependents to the criteria in its annual corporate diversity report card.

To maintain the coveted 100 percent rating when the next Corporate Equality Index is published in the fall, companies will have to offer at least one insurance plan that covers at least $75,000 worth of surgery and other treatments recommended by a patient’s doctor.

“A lot of people are pretty surprised that alongside the cosmetic and experimental treatments that are excluded from mainstream plans, you can see very broad exclusions related to transgender care,” said Deena Fidas, associate director of HRC’s Workplace Project. “In raising the bar…we are addressing the root cause of the problem.”

Stephanie Battaglino, an assistant vice president at New York Life Insurance, has been working with a senior executive at her company to add transgender health benefits to the employee insurance plan. Battaglino, 52, started her transition five years ago, becoming the first New York Life employee to do so openly. To finance her surgeries, which were on a list of procedures not covered by insurance, she borrowed from her retirement account.

“I’ve often said to friends, ‘My transition at work went really, really smoothly, and if I had to do it again, the only thing I would change would be if I had my surgery covered,”’ she said. “To know it was covered and completely reimbursed would have cast everything in a much different light.”

New York Life has been open to the changes and expects to have the expanded coverage in place soon, Battaglino said. But that doesn’t mean the learning curve has been easy to negotiate.

The company initially was uncomfortable agreeing to $75,000 of allowable coverage, she said. But she said that concern was alleviated when it was explained that only two or three employees would likely need the benefits.

“The big misconception is we are going to go broke and all these transgender people are going to come out of the woodwork asking for gender reassignment surgery,” she said.

Some businesses see covering the cost of transgender surgery as not only an important human resources statement, but good business sense.

“Wells Fargo elected to offer this benefit to be competitive as an employer and also to support our comprehensive corporate commitment to diversity,” company spokesman Mary Eshet said.

Joanne Herman, the author of Transgender Explained For Those Who Are Not, said both corporate America and insurers need to understand that genital surgery is not the be-all and end-all in making a person’s appearance match the way he or she feels inside.

For men becoming women, undergoing facial reconstruction may be even more important because it will affect how they are perceived and treated in public, Herman said. The same is true for female-to-male transsexuals and breast surgery. Yet standard insurance plans typically dismiss both as cosmetic, even though people with untreated Gender Identity Disorder are at high risk of suicide and those who get treatment become better workers.

“If you are transsexual, living as anything other than that is a very bleak experience. It’s amazing how much happier I am, how much more productive, social and involved I am as Joanne,” she said.

—  John Wright

Gay intern credited with saving Giffords’ life

Daniel Hernandez Jr. is shown accompanying his boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to an ambulance after she was shot on Saturday. (Associated Press)

Daniel Hernandez Jr., a 20-year-old University of Arizona student who’d been working as an intern for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords for only five days, is being credited with saving her life after she was shot on Saturday.

Hernandez, who confirmed that he is gay in an interview with Instant Tea on Sunday morning, is a member of the City of Tucson Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues. “She’s been a great ally to the LGBT community,” Hernandez said of Giffords during the brief interview across a bad connection.

According to the Arizona Republic, Hernandez was standing about 30 feet from Giffords during the “Congress on Your Corner” event outside a Safeway store near Tucson. When the gunshots began, Hernandez ran toward them and began checking the pulses of people who’d been hit. When Hernandez got to Giffords, he used his hand to apply pressure to the entry wound on her forehead.  He pulled her into his lap and held her upright so she wouldn’t choke on her blood.

Daniel Hernandez is shown with Giffords in this image from his Facebook page.

Hernandez used his hand to apply pressure to the wound until someone brought clean smocks from the meat department of the grocery store. He stayed with Giffords until paramedics arrived, then climbed into an ambulance with her. On the way to the hospital, he squeezed her hand and she squeezed back. From the Republic:

When they arrived at the hospital, Hernandez was soaked in blood. His family brought him clean clothes because the FBI took his for evidence.

He waited at the hospital while she went into surgery. He needed to tell police what had happened. He overheard people walking by talking about how Giffords had died. He also heard this on NPR. Later, he learned she had lived.

“I was ecstatic,” he said. “She was one of the people I’ve looked up to. Knowing she was alive and still fighting was good news. She’s definitely a fighter, whether for her own life, or standing up for people in southern Arizona.”

The fact that Hernandez was nearby and able to react quickly probably saved Giffords’ life, said state Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, and a hospital physician. He talked to Hernandez at the hospital after the shooting.

Eight hours after the shooting, Hernandez stood with Giffords’ friends and staff and told them what had happened. The tall, strong 20-year-old said, “Of course you’re afraid, you just kind of have to do what you can.”

They hugged and thanked him. Later, he sat with his mom and sisters and told them about his friends and the staffers who had died that day.

“You just have to be calm and collected,” he said. “You do no good to anyone if you have a breakdown. … It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots, but people needed help.”

—  John Wright

Utah GOP taps gay man for state Senate race

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Republican Party has chosen the head of the Utah Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian political organization, to run in a state Senate race.

The Deseret News reported Thursday, Sept. 2 that Melvin Nimer will replace Republican Nancie Lee Davis for the District 2 seat in heavily Democratic Salt Lake City. Davis was disqualified for failing to file a campaign finance disclosure statement with the lieutenant governor’s office.

Choosing Nimer could help Republicans’ chances against Democratic State Sen. Ben McAdams. The person who previously held McAdams’ seat was the only openly gay member of the Senate, although Scott McCoy was also a Democrat.

A 60-year-old accountant, Nimer, said he offers voters “a voice at the Republican table” in a GOP-dominated Legislature. He did not, however, take issue with the way the district has been represented.

“As good as Sen. McCoy was and Sen. McAdams is, being Democrats, they don’t have as much influence as a Republican would have,” Nimer said.

Nimer has been openly gay for 15 years, but said it’s not clear whether that will give him an edge with voters.

“Definitely, I’ll have that card to play, if you will,” Nimer said. “Luckily, it’s a fairly liberal district.”

McAdams said Nimer’s entry into the race doesn’t change his campaign plans. Recent campaign finance reports shows McAdams has raised $47,000.

McAdams said his track record on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues speaks for itself. He has already secured endorsements from McCoy, Equality Utah and others in the LGBT community.

—  John Wright

Making use of a chance to educate

Instead of working to block controversial film, TENT wants to put transgender issues on the front burner at Austin film fest by sponsoring discussion of movie

Recently, Transgender Education Network of Texas has made a very difficult decision. We have been following  the controversy surrounding the film, “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives.” We have been discussing the issue with Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (AGLIFF) and both organizations believe that there needs to be dialog surrounding the film.

To that end, AGLIFF will bring the film to their well-attended festival in the fall, and TENT will facilitate a discussion afterward. This was not a decision we made lightly and we want to take a moment and clarify our position.

Many trans activists, as well as GLAAD, have been very vocal critics of this film and the “negative portrayal of trans people in it.”

The majority of our board has screened this film and, though many of us don’t think the film the greatest piece of celluloid art out there, we all pretty much agree that on its surface, it doesn’t portray trans folk too negatively.

Quite to the contrary, it shows drag queens (part of the trans community) fighting back against people who want to hurt them (and are very successful … at least physically).

I’d like to lay all of our cards on the table here. Originally, we were looking at this film to use as a fundraiser for TENT. After all, with all the controversy and shouting, it was bound to be a money-maker.

And we felt strongly that we needed to have a conversation around what was really making us angry; as an organization whose mission is to educate folks about the gender diverse, we felt an obligation to facilitate a conversation.

But after our second viewing and subsequent discussion, it became clear to many of us that using this film as a fundraiser would be adding more fuel to an already over-stoked fire.

We also felt that doing nothing was not an option either. You know, if folks didn’t raise a fuss about this film it may not have even made a ripple in our community.

As a matter of fact the controversy, arguments and protests have done more to pique the interest of viewers than any standard marketing that La Luna Entertainment had planned to do.

So, it is out there; we can’t do anything about that. So we feel it is necessary to talk about it.

We also feel that to have an intelligent discussion about the film, it is necessary to actually see it. Many of the protesters have not seen it and don’t plan to for fear of giving the appearance of condoning the film. We hope they change their minds when it comes to Austin.

Let’s take a moment to talk about what the critics are saying.

One of the biggest issues early on was the use of the murders of Angie Zapata and Jorge Mercado in the trailers marketing the film.

The film gives a nod to the “blacksploitation” films of the 1960s and is graphically violent, shot in high contrast and is very campy. The protesters (rightly, in my opinion) strongly objected to the use of the two very real and very tragic murders in the marketing of this admittedly violent and campy film.

The filmmaker listened to the critics and quickly removed those quotes. I didn’t see that trailer (it had already been pulled) and when I spoke to Israel Luna, the maker of the film, I said to him that had I seen the original trailer, I would probably be equally as offended.

I asked him if he understood that and he answered, “Yes, and that is why I removed those references.”

Although they have been removed from the trailer, this is still an issue that the critics hold on to as a reason to protest.

The other reason that the protesters and GLAAD would like to see the film banned is because “… it demeans actual transgender women who struggle for acceptance and respect in their day-to-day lives.”

We’re not so sure we agree with this statement.  Whereas drag queens are not indicative of all or even most of the gender diverse community, they are a part of the community and, I for one, am proud to stand side by side with them.

After all, it was the drag queens that hurled the first bottles to start the protest at Stonewall, a protest that launched a movement.
Now drag queens, by definition, are usually caricatures of women. We all know what it means to wear “drag queen” make-up, and few women wear the exaggerated make-up and clothing on the street in their day-to-day lives.

But that is the nature of being a drag queen; they are performers wearing a costume. And guess what?  They exist in real life. I know quite a few and are honored to call them friends.

In my opinion, the drag queens characterized in the film are pretty darn accurate. For the most part, I liked these characters. They were real!  Yes, I said it: Real.

Finally, there are a couple of criticisms that I may agree with. The first is the title.

I don’t condone the use of the “T” word; I don’t use the “T” word, and I advocate that no one use it.

The other criticism that has a bit of credence is the speed in which the film goes from a relatively realistic portrayal of horrendous violence perpetrated against these trans women to a “check your brains at the door” campiness. I have some real problems with that and would have a few suggestions for Mr. Luna for a re-edit if he wants to hear them.

But, all of those things aside, it is time to watch the film and talk about it.

It is for that reason that we are not blocking AGLIFF from bringing it to the film festival. In interest of full disclosure, we were given the opportunity to block it; if TENT said “no,” AGLIFF would not have brought it in.

But we feel strongly that this controversial film can open a dialog that can do a lot of good. So we said, bring it in and let us sponsor the discussion after. We hope to have the filmmaker, the critics, the supporters, and GLAAD all participate in this important discussion.

Lisa Scheps is executive director of Transgender Education Network of Texas, based in Austin. The talk-back will be held immediately after the screening of the film on Friday, Sept. 10 at 9:45 p.m. at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Everyone is welcome to attend.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas