Friday, November 11, 2011

Continuing Challenges for Gay Service Members

via Medill Reports, by JR Tungol

Gay servicemen and women say they still face discrimination and challenges as they mark Veterans Day Friday, the first since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell on Sept. 20.

Leonardo Lucio, a 39-year-old Navy reservist, came out standing at a podium addressing a crowd at the Center on Halsted, an LGBT resource center, the day DADT was repealed.

On Wednesday, Lucio received his photo for the national NOH8 Campaign, a photographic silent protest created by celebrity photographer Adam Bouska and partner Jeff Parshley in direct response to the passage of Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage.

In a message to fellow servicemen and women, Lucio said he “was happy and proud to have been used as a model for NOH8 (No Hate).”

Lucio, who has served in the Navy for more than 21 years, will be a guest speaker Friday for Veterans Day in Chicago with American Veterans for Equal Rights.

Despite the public support he has received, Lucio was accosted at work by a veteran who yelled a gay slur at him. Lucio is a supervisory claims assistant at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago.

“He humiliated me in front of my staff,” he said. “This is my reality.”

Last weekend Lucio attended his first drill weekend in Milwaukee, after re-enlisting for six more years.
“I could’ve retired last year, but I knew the repeal was coming and I wanted to know how it would feel to serve in the Navy openly,” he said. “I came out to my roommate. I said, ‘I’m not married. I have a partner. I’m gay,’ and he said ‘it’s cool.’”

But homophobic jokes still linger. Two straight servicemen joked about taking each other to the Navy ball because of the repeal. Lucio stayed quiet.

“This is the bottom line,” he said. “I’ve – we’ve, my partner and I – have been programmed and trained to suppress, hide and lie, that it’s still hard to speak out sometimes.”

The repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act is necessary so gay servicemen and women have the same rights married personnel have, including family housing allowance and the ability to transfer bases together, Lucio said.

“We’re still second-class citizens,” he said. “The end of DADT is a big step but a small step at the same time.”

James Darby, president of the Chicago chapter of American Veterans for Equal Rights and the only gay member of the Advisory Council of Veteran Affairs for the city, was the man Lucio approached to come out publicly.

Darby, an 80-year-old retired South Side teacher and Korean War veteran thought Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would never be repealed.

“The change doesn’t affect veterans as much as it does active servicemen,” Darby said. “Now comes DOMA. Then gay people in the military can get most of their rights and federal benefits will be available to everyone – including me.”

AVER’s mission is to advocate and speak for closeted U.S. personnel. Darby said that there are veterans who are still afraid of coming out because they think their pensions might be taken away.

This Veterans Day celebration is particularly resonant for Darby because it will be the first time AVER will have an out, active service member speak.

Lucio, who grew up in Chicago Heights with Allen Schindler, the 22-year-old sailor who gained national attention for being brutally murdered by two shipmates in 1992, said his involvement with AVER and OutServe, an advocacy group for gay military personnel, is what brings him joy.

“I didn’t think at first I would be a role-model,” Lucio said. “Now, I cannot get enough and I cannot say enough. After 21 years, I need to be an example for the younger soldiers – I need to be brave.”

See the rest


  1. Is it the uniforms? The always flattering navy blue of a seaman’s uniform? The adventurous khaki of a soldier in the desert? Or might it be the rituals of military life, the sado-masochistic infliction of rules and tortuous drills, which drive today’s gays and lesbians to insist that they ought to be allowed to serve freely and openly in the military?

    In public conversations, gays unfailingly draw upon the narrow and patriarchal discourse of the nation-state and the glory of war, as if these were righteous and just and pure. We wonder if they have shut their ears to the rising tide of anti-war sentiment across the world. We wonder if they do not see the burnt remnants of entire cities decimated in the thirst for oil, or the corpses of adults and children deemed as “collateral damage” as the United States continues its thunderous march towards a failed attempt at world domination.

    And we wonder: Do these gays and lesbians feel the need to engage in fashion homo-geneity or are they suffering from cognitive dissonance

    As the policy of DADT, which bars gays and lesbians from participating openly in the US Military, expires today we don’t find ourselves celebrating. Instead we are trying to imagine what a renewed, multifaceted anti-war movement could look like while busily plugging away on our latest archival anthology of writing and visual culture that critiques the prioritization of overturning DADT as well as gay and lesbian investments in militarism more broadly. We hope that this anthology will serve as a historical reminder proving that not all us queer and trans folk were banging on the doors of the war machine begging to be rainbow colored cannon fodder. We also hope it will serve as yet another starting point for imaging other futures without war (including the material conditions that make wars “justifiable”) and conjuring actions that will bring us closer to that reality.

    The anthology,
    Against Equality: Don’t Ask to Fight Their Wars
    features writers like Yasmin Nair, Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, Kenyon Farrow, Tamara K. Nopper, Erica Meiners, Therese Quinn, Bill Andriette, Larry Goldsmith, Jamal Jones and more!

    We are not celebrating September 20, 2011. Serve Your Country! Be Queer and Say Fuck You to the Armed Forces. The Peace Movement Needs You

  2. Does Opposing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" Bolster US Militarism? A Debate with Lt. Dan Choi and Queer Activist Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore


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