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Fallout from DADT repeal: Marine in Afghanistan faces threats from his own unit

Some aspects of military culture do not change overnight; the chain of command is responsible for ensuring that bigotry and harassment are not tolerated.

The legacy of DADT is an ingrained hostility to gays and a lifestyle that for years was either illegal in the military or something not to be acknowledged or talked about. That is a mentality that for some could take a long time to change, if it changes at all. — Ian Stokell, reporting for LGBT Weekly.

While the majority of enlisted personnel in the U.S. military couldn’t give a rat’s @ss about someone’s sexual orientation, there will always be bigotry in the ranks — just as sexual harassment (and worse) of women serving in the military still poses a serious problem to contend with. And certainly racism has not been eliminated from society or the military since Truman desegretated it — and this is true of homophobia now that we are in a post-Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell world.

In a piece at LGBT Weekly, “In Afghanistan, unit greets gay Marine with threats to life,” we learn about some very out-of-the-closet bigotry a Marine serving in Afghanistan, “Steve Jones,” was subject to.

According to Steve Jones, his is a group of leathernecks among whom being openly gay means enduring barely disguised threats and large helpings of intimidation. But the story does not start with the Camp Pendleton-based Marine’s Afghan deployment. Instead, it begins many months earlier when Marine Jones met his boyfriend. Subsequently, upon news of the impending deployment there followed a flurry of “next of kin” official paperwork where Marines were required to confirm who should get their pay and possessions should the unthinkable become an all too common reality of the last 10 years of war.

One day following the repeal of DADT, Marine Jones was called in to what he was assured was a closed-door, private meeting only to learn it had been called to find out why he had put his boyfriend’s name down on the next of kin form instead of his parents. The next day his entire unit knew he was gay, his boyfriend’s name and that the boyfriend had been named as the recipient of any money due him by the military.

What followed was a time of barely disguised death threats – talk of throat-cutting in Afghanistan loud enough for him to hear as he walked past – and unsubtle intimidation with talk of him not to expect any help if anything happened in Afghanistan.

Says Jones, “I have received threats in my company and my main concern is being cast away and betrayed. I plan on coming home, but I fear that something might happen to me that has nothing to do with combat.”

The problem here — and it’s the same problem that women have had to deal with in regards to sexual harassment and assault — is the lack of support and protection up the chain of command. Support is only as good as your CO and his/her superiors. The partner of “Steve Jones” said that he didn’t feel anything has changed since repeal of DADT, and Jones has said he knows another Marine who has chosen to stay closeted because of the hostile environment in his unit.

Advocacy groups for service members that were instrumental in achieving repeal say that Jones’s story is not one that is prevalent, but they are on the lookout for incidents like this.

Jonathan Hopkins, Washington D.C. director of Outserve, says that, “Implementation has been quite professional. There have been no reported incidents like violence or harassment. There have been a few instances where people have had to work things out with their command. But in all those situations the system worked and they reported the issues and they have been reconciled and resolved.”

Says Zeke Stokes, communications director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), “We’ve heard no reports of incidents of this nature, first hand or otherwise. All feedback from the field has been positive and that, as expected, repeal implementation is occurring smoothly.”

Expect more incidents to crop up, quite frankly; we have to be realistic. Repealing DADT the policy, is not the same as changing military culture at large. That doesn’t reflect at all on the efficacy of doing away with an unnecessary discriminatory policy that affected military readiness. Predictable incidents of discrimination will occur; the bottom line is that leadership within units and all the way up to the Pentagon should be on notice to address bigotry of any kind when it arises, and that now includes homophobia. The enlisted bigots cannot be allowed to have the upper hand. They should no longer be catered to as part of the “norm” in military culture.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding