(Editorâs Note: Most Democrats were thrilled to see VP Joe Biden unleashed in Thursday nightâs debate with GOP VP hopeful Paul Ryan. But some LGBT people were disappointed that Biden didn’t talk about the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and the incomplete repeal of Donât Ask, Donât Tell. Right now it appears the candidates have all decided to âmove onâ â leaving behind LGBT servicemembers such as transgender former Navy Lt. Commander and pilot Brynn Tannehill and CWO Charlie Morgan, who has less than six months to live and doesnât know if the military will take care of her family. Marines donât leave anyone behind, says an angry attorney and former Marine Captain Tom Carpenter â and neither should America â Karen Ocamb)
The Unfinished Mission
By Tom Carpenter, attorney and former Marine Captain
Intrepidâ resolute fearlessness in meeting dangers or hardships and enduring them with fortitude.
How fitting that the one-year anniversary of the repeal of the âDon’t Ask, Don’t Tellâ law was celebrated on the USS Intrepid. On the actual date of the anniversary, September 20, I attended a screening of a new independent film, “Burning Blue,” an adaptation of a play with the same title written by my good friend, and fellow Naval Academy graduate, David Greer.
I had seen this play in London a number of years ago and left the theater emotionally drained but inspired. It is a story of a group of young naval aviators, members of a hard charging Navy Fâ18 fighter squadron, flying off an attack aircraft carrier during the mid-1990s. Two Lieutenants, one the married son of the Chief of Naval Operations, the other a handsome bachelor, come to grips with their sexual orientation. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigates both, one resigns his commission and the other is killed in an aircraft accident.
As I left the screening, I reflected upon how things had changed so much in the past year. I could not help but recall the many service members, like these two young naval aviators, who had sacrificed so much just to be able to serve the country they loved.Â This time, instead of being emotionally drained and inspired, I was angry. While all around the country, many were celebrating the repeal of the âDon’t Ask, Don’t Tellâ law, the goal of equality for all service members was far from being achieved.
In the year since repeal, our LGB service members have, as predicted, performed their duties with professionalism. There have been no reported incidences of misconduct by these young patriots. At the same time, their straight brothers and sisters in arms, have on the whole, been equally professional. Many LGB troops have come out to their peers and commanders. From the field, most have experienced not just tolerance, but acceptance and in many instances have been embraced by their fellow warriors for their honesty and integrity.
So why the anger?
Service members have done their part to make implementation of this new personnel policy successful. What has the Pentagon done since implementation, to eliminate, what in reality, has become their second-class status? Plenty of fluff – but no stuff.
Yes, the historical celebration and recognition of LGB service members at a ceremony this June in the Pentagon was significant. Giving last minute permission, on a one-time basis, for troops to march in uniform in the San Diego Pride parade, sent the right message. Allowing same gender marriages in installation chapels is also remarkable. But all of these, are more form over substance.
In the several times I have heard Adm. Mike Mullen speak, he has never failed to recognize the importance of family members in contributing to military readiness. On board the USS Intrepid, after completing his formal remarks and receiving a thank you gift, he returned to the microphone.
As Adm. Mullen recognized and thanked his wife, he implicitly demonstrated how important a military spouse is to the health and well being of each service member.Â The failure of LGB families to receive the excellent support the military provides all other families is not theoretical but real.
Take the case of CWO Charlie Morgan, her wife, Karen and their daughter, Casey. Charlie is fighting for her life with stage 4 breast cancer. If she does not survive, Karen will not be provided the survivorsâ benefits needed to care for their six year old daughter.
Just this week, SSGT Donna Johnson, a member of the North Carolina National Guard, was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. She is survived by her wife and family. Will the military treat Donnaâs wife with the dignity and respect they would any other spouse of a fallen warrior? In her time of grief, will she receive all the support and benefits due her?
During the past year since implementation, the Pentagon has done nothing to provide benefits to the spouses and children of LGB troops. It was clear as far back as May 2010, that certain benefits could be provided and not run afoul of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). After a meeting with the Pentagon’s Comprehensive Review Working Group(CRWG) during that same month, I spokeÂ with the senior military lawyer representing the CRWG, and was assured they were studying the family benefits issue, and that, where legally permissible, changes in regulations would be forthcoming.Â The CRWG’s official report published on November 30, 2010, recommended that the family benefits issue be revisited after implementation of repeal. Over two years later, the silence is deafening. There still exist two classes of service members. What could be more detrimental to unit cohesion and morale?
Important work ahead
During negotiations between the Pentagon and the leadership of Congress over the content of the bill to repeal DADT, nondiscrimination was abandoned.
The argument was that the legislation would fail to pass in the Congress if this provision was included in the law. Since 1998, while excluding those in uniform, the Department of Defense (DoD) has provided nondiscrimination protection to its LGBT civilian employees through the Human Goals Charter. With a stroke of a pen, by inserting âsexual orientationâ in the following section, the DoD could afford LGB service members the protection they rightfully deserve:
The attainment of these goals requires that we strive:
To make military service in the Department of Defense a model of equal opportunity for all regardless of race, color, sex, religion or national origin;Â
This is not rocket science, and in spite of repeated requests from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, to make this simple change, the Pentagon remains silent and takes no action to include those who proudly wear our countryâs uniform.
Even the present Administration, which has advanced the rights of LGB citizens farther than all other presidencies combined, sometimes misses the mark. In President Obama’s statement released on September 29, 2012, the one year anniversary of the repeal of DADT, he concludes:
The ability of service members to be open and honest about their families and the people they love honors the integrity of the individuals who serve, strengthens the institutions they serve, and is one of the many reasons why our military remains the finest in the world.
Agreed. While earlier in this statement the President salutes gay and lesbian service members, he fails to recognize bisexuals and did not address the need to change the medical regulations to allow our transgendered brothers and sisters to serve the country they love.
It would be naĂŻve, during this national campaign season to expect any further action on these important issues. I am angry because the Administration could have dealt with family benefits, nondiscrimination and transgendered service before the election campaign made that impossible. This was a missed opportunity to right the wrongs of the past.
In President Obamaâs second term, if he is re-elected, we must continue to pressure his new Administration to be intrepid and to do the right thing. We owe it to those in uniform, their families, and the country we love.