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Profiles in Patriotism


Rev. Dr. Sandra L. Bochonok

By Denny Meyer

In early September 2007 The Metropolitan Community Church issued a Policy Statement affirming its commitment to the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy and its ongoing support for LGBT service members.  For several years MCC has offered its nationwide food pantries to the partners and family members of LGBT troops stationed overseas.  For the full text of the MCC statement, click here.  Among the signers and participants of the MCC statement was former Navy Chaplain Sandra Bochonok; whose story is featured below.

Sandra Bochonok served in the United States Air Force as a nurse from 1980-1983 leaving with the rank of Captain.  Later she served in the United States Navy as a Chaplain from 1991-1996 leaving with the rank of Lieutenant Commander.  The rather remarkable story of  the Rev. Dr. Bochonok, now an ordained minister in the Metropolitan Community Church, is both inspirational and symbolic of the type of determination and commitment most valued by our armed forces.

The daughter of a Chicago carpenter, Sandra Bochonok grew up in a religious blue-collar working class family at a time when girls were expected to marry soon after graduating from high school and work in gender defined rolls as either nurses or teachers.  After graduating from the Cook County Hospital School of Nursing she began a sixteen-year career as nurse.  At a time of national crisis, she joined the US Air Force, serving at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, MS, and in Misawa, Japan.  She had perhaps been inspired, in part, by her maternal uncle, who had served in the Army during World War II.  She was one of the first in her family to get an education beyond high school.  Her mother, naturally, was proud that her daughter had become an Air Force officer, both for her patriotism and education.  Her father, on the other hand, had a more ambivalent perception of the armed forces.

While working as a nurse at a Veterans Hospital in Miami, she grew to more deeply respect the sacrifice and service of veterans and to miss the military life.  And yet, at the same time, during her time in the Air Force, she had been deeply troubled by the way it treated those who were suspected of being or determined to be homosexual.  She had patriotically joined to serve her country, and had found it shameful that it could not respect all of its citizen volunteers simply because of who they were.  At that time she did not identify with them; but in Miami she slowly began to understand who she was when she fell platonically in love with a woman.

In 1986 she returned to Chicago to care for her mother who was ill with cancer, and attended a seminary.  In 1987, during a Middle East crisis, she felt a strong call to again serve her country, this time as a spiritual counselor to service members.  Remarkably, a Navy Chaplain recruiter telephoned with her first call to ministry, informing her that the Navy needed ordained clergywomen.  After earning a Masters Degree in Divinity while a Navy Reserve Chaplain in training, she volunteered for active duty during Desert Shield.  As Command Chaplain, she was one of only thirty women assigned aboard the USS Mauna Kea AE 22, an ammunition vessel.  During this time, Her father participated in her ship’s Tiger cruise when they returned from the Middle East, and his attitude towards military service changed dramatically. He began to daily pray for her and her ministry.

During her time in the Navy, she experienced an increasingly tense conflict of personal integrity. She had realized more fully that she was a lesbian and, as the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy was enacted into law, was deeply distressed that this fact resulted in her service both as a minister and Naval officer was essentially in violation of her oaths of honor.  As a Lieutenant Commander working in  the office of the Chief of Chaplains in the Bureau of Naval Personnel, she was well aware of those being discharged under the new policy and could well imagine herself on that list of those being disgraced and discharged for who they were. She loved the Navy, as nearly all sailors do. But both from her compassion for those dismissed and her inherent scrupulous honesty, she regretfully resigned her commission in 1996.  Like so many others, she took her skills, training, and leadership from the service, without a word, rather than lead a deceitful double life.  She came out to her father, she notes, after being honorably discharged, and he accepted and affirmed her without hesitation; and he now continues to pray for her current local and global ministry.

As she was about to begin her doctoral studies in divinity, at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, as an openly out lesbian MCC minister, a call for help from a suicidal gay man led her to realize her call to gay ministry.

Living with her partner of 13 years in Washington State, the Rev. Dr. Sandra Bochonok leads an MCC internet ministry. Providing non homophobic spiritual resources to participants in 140 countries in multiple languages she ministers to a worldwide LGBT flock with seekers as diverse as those from Australia to Zimbabwe.  She is President of the the ecumenical Bremerton Ministerial Association and is an associate member of the Little Sisters of St. Clare, a Franciscan religious order of women.

Rev. Bochonok's internet ministry may be found at http://www.soulfoodministry.org

The Rev. Dr. Bochonok is the author of Living As The Beloved: One Day At A Time. She is currently working on two new manuscripts, What Happens When Queer People Pray? and Psalms 4 Queers!

©  2007  Gay Military Signal