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Two Navy Vets Wed
 in Native American Ceremony


Denny Meyer

Two Navy veterans, Gene Barfield and his Native American partner Tim LaCroix were married on March 15th by the sovereign nation Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, complete with traditional  drums and song.

In a traditional Native American wedding ceremony the two men were cleansed with burnt sage and tied a bough into a circle to signify their union, according to petoskeynews.com.

Aside from marrying a royal prince, perhaps, 'dreams come true' don't get any better than this.  How right and fitting it is that the original people of this land should implement equality ahead of the federal government and the State of Michigan, within which this first nation tribe resides.

Gene and Tim met while serving in the US Navy; they were married this March on their thirtieth anniversary together.  According to Gene and Tim's press release:

On Friday morning, March 15, 2013, Tim LaCroix and Gene Barfield, both of Boyne City MI, became the first same-sex couple legally married within the State of Michigan.

The ceremony took place at the government headquarters complex of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians (LTBB), a federally recognized tribe of Native American people. Tim is a tribal citizen, and Gene, his partner of 30 years, became his legally wed non-tribal spouse under the laws of the tribe.

The tribal law permitting marriage of same-sex couples was only recently passed by a 5-4 vote of the LTBB Tribal Council.  Tribal Chairman Dexter McNamara signed the legislation into law at tribal government headquarters in Harbor Springs, MI.  the signing ceremony was followed immediately by Tim and Gene’s marriage ceremony. Tribal Chairman McNamara agreed to officiate, as authorized under the new tribal law. The marriage event included traditional Native American ceremonies at the couple’s request, as a gesture of their great thanks to the tribe for making the couple’s marriage possible, and to honor the Odawa people and all Native American and First Nation communities.

Under the provisions of a referendum held some years ago, to amend the Michigan State Constitution, Tim and Gene’s marriage will not be recognized under present Michigan law. Since the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians is a sovereign Native American tribe under federal law, their marriage will have equal legal standing with those performed in states where same-sex marriage is legally sanctioned, and among the people of the other Native American tribes and foreign countries that have sanctioned same-sex marriage so far.

Tim and Gene are both honorably discharged veterans with a total of eighteen years service in the U. S. Navy.

Tim LaCroix, 53, is a native of the Boyne City, MI area. The town of Cross Village, Michigan was named after his ancestors. His forbearers in the region were among the first settlers in present-day Charlevoix County, and delivered United States Mail by canoe around the Little Traverse district. Stories of these people are recorded in the well-known books Little Mossback Amelia and Indian Drums.

After graduating from high school Tim enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a Yeoman for eight years; as an Admiral’s Yeoman, on the personal staff of Rear Admiral Pete Conrad, famous as an American astronaut; and aboard the cruiser-destroyer USS BELKNAP; aircraft carrier USS EISENHOWER; and the fast attack submarine USS PHILADELPHIA. He was awarded the Navy Achievement Medal three times during his service.  He completed his service as a Yeoman First Class.

After leaving the Navy Tim moved with Gene to Vermont. There he became active in the statewide LGBT civil rights movement as a founding member of Vermont C.A.R.E.S. (Vermont Committee for AIDS Resources, Education & Services), and in the multi-year lobbying effort that led to passage of Vermont’s Civil Rights Act of 1992. At the same time he became involved in the decades-long battle to end discrimination in the Armed Forces based on sexual orientation.

After training at the Vermont State Police Academy, and at the United States Law Enforcement Training Center at Glencoe, Georgia, he served as a senior investigator at the Vermont Department of Banking and Insurance. He also served as a volunteer staff member of a battered women’s shelter, at the Central Vermont Council on Aging, the Central Vermont Humane Society, and at the Washington County (VT) Mental Health Association.

After relocating to South Florida with Gene, Tim served as an investigator in the Florida Comptroller’s Office dealing with white collar crime and then as a Senior Fraud Investigator on the staff of the Florida Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Unit. After they moved to Michigan he helped create the Regulatory Department of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and served as head of the Tribe’s Compliance Division at Victories Casino, among other duties.

Later, Tim pursued a longtime wish to study horticulture and landscape design.  He served on the board of Northern Shores Loan Fund and later was an auditor at local resorts and as a specialist at a local outdoor and garden supply center.

Tim has been a subject in Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians In The U.S. Military by Randy Shilts, and Playing By The Rules by Justin Crockett Elzie, SGT(Ret.), USMC.

Gene F. Barfield, 60, graduated from Long Island's Bay Shore High School in 1970, where as editor of The Bridge, newspaper of the Masonic Order of DeMolay in NY, he interviewed prominent members including Walter Cronkite and J. Edgar Hoover.  He went to Wagner College on Staten Island, in New York's harbor.

In the Navy,  Gene became a Machinist’s Mate in the Naval Nuclear Power Program.  He served aboard USS NATHANAEL GREENE, a fleet ballistic missile submarine where, in addition to his regular duties he served as a trained substance abuse counselor and editor of the ship’s newspaper.

When Gene declined to accept a medical discharge due to a significant hearing loss in both ears, he was reassigned duty as a Personnelman and served aboard Fleet Light Air Attack Squadron 72 (VA-72), Thus having served aboard both a submarine and in an air squadron. At VA-72 Gene was promoted to Petty Officer First Class, and held additional duties as a nuclear weapons loading team leader, and Squadron Operations Supervisor. Next, Gene received advanced training as a Personnelman Classifier, and served at the Recruit Training Command Orlando, Florida. While there, he was recruited by the staff of the Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve to be transferred to active duty as a Reservist, serving on independent duty as the representative of Commander, U.S. Naval Reserve in the southeast U.S., under the Recruiting Command. Gene was awarded the Naval Recruiting Command Gold Wreath for Excellent Performance along with other commendations.

It was while stationed in Orlando, on March 1st 1983, that Gene met Tim who was also an active duty sailor, and they have been together ever since.

After leaving the Navy, Tim and Gene moved to Vermont where Gene served as statewide president of Vermont’s first lgbt organization for military veterans. Instrumental in the passage of Vermont civil rights legislation outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, he and Tim were present at the bill signing ceremonies by Governor Howard Dean. He was a founding member of Vermont C.A.R.E.S. (Vermont Committee for AIDS Resources, Education & Services). At the same time Gene studied at Norwich University (a/k/a The Military College of Vermont, Northfield, VT), from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. He was the first openly gay person to graduate from Norwich. In 1992, he earned an MS degree in Historic Preservation at the University of Vermont in Burlington.  He has since worked in that field in various places around the nation.

Around the time of U.S. build-up to the Persian Gulf War, Gene joined a small number of LGBT military veterans around the U.S. as they began creating a national movement dedicated to ending the ban on military service by openly LGBT Americans. Including writing, publishing and speaking on that subject, many trips to Washington, D.C. to lobby the Congress and White House on that issue and AIDS awareness, Gene also served as national secretary and national president of Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Veterans of America (GLBVA, which later became American Veterans For Equal Rights) and as editor of its news publication The Forward Observer. He also served as National Coordinator for military and veteran participation in the 1993 March on Washington.

After they moved to Miami, FL in 1996 Gene became the Director of the Historic Preservation Division in Miami-Dade County’s Office of Community and Economic Development.  He created and ran FEMA's first targeted disaster recovery program for historic sites in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

When Tim and Gene were offered an opportunity to buy a farm then owned by Tim’s uncle, which had been in his family for generations, they moved to Tim’s home state of Michigan where they now live.

Gene has been a subject  in The Quilt: Stories From The NAMES Project by Cindy Ruskin, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians In The U.S. Military by Randy Shilts, and Playing By The Rules by Justin Crockett Elzie, SGT(Ret.), USMC.   He wrote a Simonton Prize-winning essay on theater organ preservation in Theater Organ Magazine (American Theater Organ Society) in 2005.

Tim and Gene live on their 30-acre farm outside Boyne City,  with their two dogs and cat, keep up an extensive garden plot, and spend time working in their well-equipped wood shop and on their model railroad.  Gene says that Tim is an outstanding cook, while he is 'an outstanding culinary sampler.'

In an interview with CNN.com, Gene was quoted as saying, "We served our country to uphold those people's rights to protest our right to get married ... If you're good enough to bear arms for your country or to die in some lonely valley in Afghanistan, you're good enough to come home and get married."

In their own press release, Gene and Tim wrote, in part:

Between us, we have given eighteen years of honorable service to the United States, in the U.S. Navy. In that time and since we did not ever stop to consider whether we should offer service to the nation only to benefit and defend some of America’s people. The blessings of freedom, dignity and liberty are meant for all people without exception. This is something we are each taught at the youngest age, when we first learn the great words of our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.

As our first act as a married couple, as military veterans we publicly and respectfully salute Native American and First Nation people everywhere, and join with all people throughout the State and nation who understand and support the fundamental purpose of marriage, which is to create and sustain a community of stable, happy families as the basic building block of a strong and thriving nation. We respectfully ask our neighbors throughout this state and elsewhere across the nation, to embrace the wisdom and generosity of the Odawa people, and to take all steps necessary to ensure the equal provision of happiness, security and equality to every American household.

(See a Petoskey News video by Brandon Hubbard, of the signing, ceremony and song at:
http://www.petoskeynews.com/videogallery/74884768/News/VIDEO-Little-Traverse-Bay-Bands-of-Odawa-Indians-legalize-same-sex-marriage-marry-first-couple )

  2013 Gay Military Signal