My 35-Year Military Battle

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com March 24 2011 4:30 PM ET

COMMENTARY: The fight against military discrimination began years before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with my court case, starting in 1975, and the case of Leonard Matlovitch, which also began in 1975. I fought from 1975 to 1990 against military discrimination and became the very first person in U.S. history to win and go back in; I served again from 1987 to 1990.

 

The Army challenged my reenlistment. and I eventually lost at the Supreme Court. which declined to hear my case without prejudice. DADT, implemented in 1993, remains a draconian piece of legislation. Yet for the duration of this piece of twisted law, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people continued to be discharged, not because they told, but because someone found out and tattled. Through the 1990s and up until the present day, military personnel from all branches of service have come forth to challenge discrimination. Readers may recall Dan Choi, Mara Boyd, and Evelyn Thomas as well as Cliff Anchor, Cliff Arnesen, James Darby, Arch Wilson, and others from the past who challenged laws or got directly involved with the LBGT veterans’ movement. In 1993 many veterans, including myself, were arrested at the White House fence when we protested. Thereafter, with the exception of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and various veterans’ groups like the New England LGBT Veterans and American Veterans for Equal Rights, the national organizations did naught on the issue other than to ask for donations and hold conferences at which little but convivial backslapping was done.

 

After President Obama promised during his presidential campaign to end DADT, rumors began to circulate in 2009 that DADT might be nearing its end. And through early 2010, while the signs were there and words were spoken, Obama’s administration seemed to be mired in mud. Throughout 2010 there were actions at the White House fence and military personnel were arrested, while national organizations floundered about, flashing the same old regimen, showcasing officers, and of these, primarily white males. No national organization even treated the fact that DADT impacted not just white male officers, but primarily enlisted people, and of these, primarily women — and women of color, at that. It took a grassroots organization, GetEqual, to transcend the typical white male Beltway insider crap and move beyond the institutionalized racism, sexism, and classism of the D.C. hoo-ha crowd. The grassroots galvanized, and in November of 2010, 13 more people, including myself, took to the fence again and handcuffed ourselves to it. Rumor has it that this action (as well as a few other grand disruptions by GetEqual) angered the president — but also unmired the administration, with the resulting repeal of DADT on December 22.

 

We all cheered and cried that day. But many of us said to ourselves, It won’t be true until the first LGBT person is openly enlisted. And to this very day, not a one has been enlisted. Every LGBT service member still lives in fear, still is subject to discharge, and still has no protection because of the president’s refusal to sign an EO policy. They live so because, as usual, the government moves like molasses in January with the certification process of this law and training materials for the military.

MIRIAM BEN SHALOM X390Even more interesting is what we 13 who took to the fence in November are going through. The federal prosecutor served each one of us with a "Summons in a Criminal Case," hand-delivered by — are you ready? — U.S. marshals. Just like mafiosi. Further, the government is using an extremely obscure statute, Section 2.32(a)(2) of the United States Code of Federal Regulation, to prosecute us. This section has never been used before in a case involving civil disobedience at the White House; it is a federal charge that carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a $500 fine. Trumped-up charges is putting it mildly; in fact, each of us is being criminally charged with a misdemeanor (nature unknown).

For two of us who are teachers, this could spell the end of our careers. We have asked for a trial since the federal prosecutor has refused to bargain other than to reduce the fines for some, but not all. We 13 are getting extra-harsh treatment because the government got mud on its face the last time it went to court against participants of earlier actions.

So the damage and nastiness of DADT remain and are even now still claiming hearts and lives. For myself, I have been fighting this injustice for 36 years, and I am getting ornery and do not feel like being civil. There are days when I seethe with the rage I carry and I wish I had done more — could do more. 2011 meanders on with good Americans being discharged; good Americans denied the right to serve again; and good Americans being refused the honor of service to country. I wonder if this damn intractable meandering will ever end.