Note: I was going to post this to the Santorum thread, but figured that, considering its length, and the fact that it doesn't directly relate to Santorum's comments, it would be better as as own thread.
For Gays, Secrecy in Love, War
Partners of American military personnel are the invisible players back home, bearing their burdens without support or rights.
Patricia Ward Biederman, Times Staff Writer
When he went off to fight in Iraq, the 39-year-old Los
Angeles resident did what any airman might do. He took with him a photo of
his beloved, a reminder of who waits for him at home.
airman is gay. So the photo he carries with him appears to be of his dog.
The pet is in the foreground, and the man's partner of five years, a
41-year-old talent agent named Brian, is in the background, as if Brian
were a friend who just wandered into the frame.
The United States
armed forces deem open homosexuality a risk to morale, good order,
discipline and unit readiness. Gay servicemen and women who reveal their
sexual orientation or are found to be homosexual are subject to
As a result, Brian and other partners of American
military personnel are the invisible players on the home front. The media
are filled with photos of the worried families of straight soldiers,
including their tearful, poignant goodbyes or their joyous reunions. But
gay and lesbian partners can't share such scenes. They can't access the
support services the military offers spouses. They can't be sure they
would be the first to find out if their loved ones were wounded, captured
"We do our goodbyes at home behind closed doors and then
drive to the base or the airport ... and, there, we'll just shake hands
like we're brothers or friends," Brian said.
Brian's partner has
been mobilized several times since they met, said Brian, who asked to be
interviewed in a booth at a Beverly Hills restaurant, where other diners
would not overhear. He declined to let his surname be printed, lest it
reveal his partner's identity to other airmen. The men keep in touch by
e-mail, but they never know who might be reading their exchanges. "We have
to keep our e-mails very sterile and cryptic," Brian said.
said he hates pretending that they are just pals, but subterfuge has
become second nature for his partner after almost 20 years in the Air
Their caution extends to the greeting heard by anyone who
calls their Westside home, a house that Brian lived in for years before he
met his partner: "Our answering machine at home has to be in his voice
only, no mention of me," Brian said.
Brian tolerates these
evasions, which he blames on the military's "don't ask, don't tell"
policy. "Americans shouldn't have to do this," he said.
Department of Defense official pointed out that "don't ask, don't tell" is
the law and said: "The department continues to work tirelessly to
administer that law in a manner that is both fair and consistent. The
Department of Defense remains committed to treating all service members
with dignity and respect while fairly enforcing the provisions of the
In 1982 the Defense Department formalized World War II-era
policies against allowing homosexuals to serve.
As a presidential
candidate, Bill Clinton supported repealing the ban, but early in his
first term he softened his stance in the face of opposition from the
military, Congress and a substantial portion of the U.S. public. The
opposition argued that the presence of homosexual soldiers could offend or
make other troops uncomfortable, undermining esprit de corps and possibly
In 1994 the "don't ask, don't tell"
compromise took effect. Recruits could not be asked their sexual
orientation, but evidence of homosexual conduct could be turned over to
unit commanders for fact-finding investigations.
In recent years,
most European countries have begun allowing out-of-the-closet gays to
serve in their militaries. In the Middle East, closeted American gays
serve alongside openly gay troops from Britain and Australia.
the 19 NATO countries, six do not let openly gay men and women serve:
Greece, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Turkey and the United States. Ireland
and Israel are among the 24 nations that allow openly gay
Aaron Belkin, director of the Center for the Study of
Sexual Minorities in the Military at UC Santa Barbara, said his group is
keeping watch to see whether other nations open their militaries to gays
as a result of a 1999 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that
led to Britain's lifting of its ban in 2000.
Legal Defense Network in Washington has counseled and provided legal
services to about 3,000 gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans in the
military over the last decade.
The defense network advises gay
soldiers filling out military life insurance forms to describe the
beneficiary partner only as a "friend."
Similarly, the defense
network advises gay soldiers to use "friend" on the form that tells the
military whom to notify in case the soldier is wounded, taken prisoner,
missing in action or killed. Next of kin must be listed on notification
forms as well, and blood relatives are more likely to be called than
"friends," say the defense network and other advocates for gay
Unlike blood relatives and straight spouses, gay and
lesbian partners don't have access to base support groups and services,
and they often can't visit hospitalized service personnel, let alone have
a voice in their treatment.
Brian is listed as a friend on his
partner's notification form, and Brian doubts that he would be treated
like a mourning spouse if his airman partner were to fall in
"If something were to happen to him, they're not going to
knock on my door. They're going to go to the person who is first on that
list, and the person who's first on that list is not going to tell me,"
In wartime, when manpower needs are high, soldiers who
are identified as gay are less likely to be ousted than in peacetime,
according to a 2001 report by the UC Santa Barbara center. Discharges
often all but stop during the actual conflict, only to pick up again as
soon as the fighting is over. Discharges for homosexuality tripled after
World War II ended in 1945, the report notes. They also surged after the
After the Vietnam War, discharges for homosexuality
didn't increase significantly until 1977. Sociologist Rhonda Evans, author
of the UCSB report, speculates that the end of the draft heightened the
need for willing soldiers, whatever their sexual orientation. During the
1991 Persian Gulf War, discharges of gay military members were put on
hold, only to be started again when the fighting was over.
service people in the U.S. military are always at risk of exposure, war or
no war, advocates say.
Kathi Wescott, a staff attorney with the
defense network, said the organization warns gay military members that
their secret may not be safe even with their military physician, mental
health professional or chaplain. Defense attorneys in a court martial or
other legal proceeding in which a gay soldier is the defendant "are really
the only safe place in the military where people can talk openly about
their sexual orientation," she said.
According to the UCSB report,
lesbians in the military are much more likely to be expelled than gay men.
In 1999, almost a third of the 1,046 American military members discharged
because of their sexual orientation were women, although they made up only
14% of the active armed forces.
A contractor in Southern
California, 27-year-old Jen has been the partner for more than a year of a
woman now serving on a Navy ship in the gulf.
Jen, who also asked
that her surname not be used, knows firsthand what happens to sailors who
are identified as gays or lesbians. She graduated from the Naval Academy
and served as a naval lieutenant until last year, when she was discharged
after deciding, she said for reasons of integrity, to reveal that she is a
Now she worries what will happen to her 34-year-old
partner, who is coming to the end of a long career as an enlisted
The women talk every day via e-mail. Jen fills her partner
in on what's happening at home, including the state of her finances. The
active sailor signed two boxes of checks before she shipped out and trusts
Jen to pay her bills on time.
Unlike Brian and his airman partner,
the women are "pretty open" in their exchanges, though not so explicit as
to raise alarm: "There's not a lot we censor," Jen said.
that their e-mails are read by the Navy for security reasons, but they
feel it is important to nurture their relationship, now more than ever,
given the pressures of war and distance: "We work really hard at staying
close," Jen said.
But the couple took precautions as well. The
women created an e-mail account in the name of the mobilized partner. Both
of them use that same sign-on when they correspond, which makes it almost
impossible for anyone to identify the recipient of the sailor's
The woman at war has an informal support group close at
hand. Three of her four roommates are lesbians--a statistical anomaly,
according to the defense network's Wescott. (No one knows how many of the
U.S.' 1.4 million service members are homosexual, but the UC Santa Barbara
report repeats standard estimates of the size of the gay, lesbian and
bisexual population in the United States -- 1% to 6% of women and 2% to 8%
of men report having had at least one sexual experience with someone of
the same gender.)
But back home Jen is cut off from the support
system established by the military for spouses: "There are resources here
on land I'm not allowed to tap into."
The base ombudsman is off
limits to her, for one: "If I were a spouse, I could call that person and
find out what was happening on the ship," Jen said. Jen has a good
relationship with her sailor partner's parents and trusts that they would
call her if anything happened to her partner.
Being able to
acknowledge their love, Jen said, "would take a weight off our
Although Jen said she is not bitter about the "don't
ask, don't tell" policy that ended her naval career, she thinks reform is
overdue. "The policy needs to change because there are so many gays
serving and serving well," she said, sounding like any proud spouse of an
American service member. "They're out there, and they're fighting for
As the troops return from the war, gay and lesbian military
members will have to exercise restraint no one expects of the straight
soldiers they fought beside.
"The goodbyes are not the hardest
part," Brian said. "It's the hellos. The first time you see your partner
in five or six months, it's very emotional. And you have to shake
"La vida te da sorpresas...
Sorpresas te da la vida...",
RubÃ©n Blades---Pedro Navaja