With Pentagon Officials
When you're used to hiding your existence from
anyone who looks remotely military, it takes a leap
of faith to walk into the Pentagon and give them
your real name.
But that's just what I and 19 other queer military
partners did on Thursday, September 16th. We were
there to meet with senior officials of the
Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG), which is
at this moment devising a plan for implementing
repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. We were all
incredibly nervous – not just because we feared for
our partners, but because we were afraid they
wouldn’t take us seriously. We knew this was our one
chance to affect military policy, and we didn’t want
to waste that chance.
I don’t think we wasted it. Like others, I am
crushed by the recent defeat in the Senate. But I
feel optimistic about general attitudes towards
queers in the military. Before this month, the
Pentagon had never acknowledged the existence of
queer military partners. Now, they not only met with
us, but they took us seriously. For ninety minutes
that afternoon, Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson and
Major General Gregory Biscone took notes while we
discussed our concerns.
The meeting was facilitated by Servicemembers
United, and an additional group showed up with
Servicemembers' Legal Defense Network. In total, 20
partners were present. The statistics: men slightly
outnumbered the women. Sixteen partners were white.
Most of us were in serious, long-term relationships
with servicemembers for whom the military was a
career. Three were legally married. At least two had
partners who had been investigated for "homosexual
conduct". And three partners with prior service said
they would reenlist if Don't Ask, Don't Tell were
The Ability To
At the beginning of the meeting, Johnson assured us
that he didn’t want to know our last names, or the
identities of our partners. He just wanted to hear
what we had to say.
So we told him. The meeting was not a voicing of
grievances. All of us had plenty, but we put those
aside because we knew this was our one chance to be
visible. The Pentagon had reached out to us – and we
wanted to give them as much useful information as we
We had discussed our strategy beforehand, and we all
agreed: we didn’t want them to think we only want a
slice of the military benefits pie. Things like the
commissary and health care are nice, and we would
eventually like access to those things as a matter
of principle, but at this time they are not our main
concern. We have learned over the years to get by
without them. Our immediate needs are much more
basic than that.
We just want to be able to live openly.
For most queer servicemembers and their partners,
this would solve a host of problems. Some of these
problems are minor, such as not being able to hold
hands when we walk down the street in a military
town. Others are serious, such as not being able to
adopt children because the adoption papers would
show up in military records. But even the smallest
inconveniences can strain a relationship.
One partner said she was five months pregnant with
her wife's twins. Her wife will be in Iraq when the
babies are born. The partner has no support--
medical or emotional. She will have to give birth in
a civilian hospital, away from her partner.
Another woman said she was representing 11 queer
military families. Out of those families, she was
the only partner who had dared come to the Pentagon.
The others had weighed their options and decided
they had too much to lose.
These families have a total of 12 children and seven
grandchildren. Several of the children have joined
the service. Counting the children's deployments,
the families have 29 deployments between them. Their
combined service totals 324 years. One of the
parents is at this moment deployed to
Afghanistan--with her son.
These families should be teaching their children and
grandchildren to be proud of their parents' military
service. Instead, they are teaching them to lie at
school. This hurts them every day. But they have no
Every Day, We
Live In Fear
Straight servicemembers seem to think that Don't
Ask, Don't Tell is only an inconvenience sometimes.
That's not true. Even on the most mundane of days,
our lives are overshadowed by this law from the
moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep.
Fear was the most common theme in the meeting.
Everyone had a story to tell, but I still don’t
think we truly got it across to the officials how
deeply this fear penetrates our lives.
Personally, whenever I go out of the house with my
partner in the place she's stationed, I am afraid.
Afraid someone will see her with me, a strange
woman, and report it. I am afraid to touch her,
afraid to smile at her, afraid to even look at her
when there are soldiers in uniform around. When we
get home, I am exhausted. It gets so that we'd
rather just stay inside, even when the weather is
Even when I'm not with my partner, I'm afraid. I
worry that an enemy will out her just to spite her.
I worry that she’ll slip up and mention my name. I
constantly peruse her profile on social networking
sites, making sure no one has posted anything that
will bring suspicion on her.
I worry about her mental health, too. She's been
openly gay since she was a teenager. She identifies
strongly with the queer community. In the military,
the members of that community can't even acknowledge
each other. What long-term psychological effects is
that going to have on her? How will that affect the
way she leads her soldiers?
I listen to her talking about how badly she wishes
she could open up to her unit, and my heart breaks.
The fact that the Pentagon decided to meet with us
tells me they acknowledge that their current policy
is not working. It also tells me they realize that
their goal of military readiness is not in
opposition with our goal of living openly.
I'm far more optimistic about the military's
attitude on this issue than I was before this
meeting. We gay partners showed up because we would
take any risk to make a better life for our
partners. Our families may look different from most
military families, but the glue holding them
together -- by which I mean love -- is the same. The
officials asked us: "If Don't Ask, Don't Tell were
repealed tomorrow, what would you do differently?"
Our answer: nothing. There's not going to be a pride
parade on the White House lawn. We're not going to
wear sequined uniforms. The fear about queers in the
military is based on stereotypes that simply aren't
true. We would live just the same as we have been
for seventeen years -- except without fear, as part
of the military family.
No one can doubt our partners' dedication to the
military. Every one of them joined up knowing they
would be discriminated against, and that the people
they loved best would have no resources to acclimate
to a military lifestyle. They joined a service that
has made it abundantly clear over the years that
they are not welcome. Why? Because their sense of
patriotism overrode their sense of comfort.
When I got home that night, my partner thanked me
for going to the meeting. I was glad I had had the
chance to speak for her.
But I look forward to the day when she can speak for
© 2010 Gay Military Signal