Which prompts the question, Why didn’t James file a complaint about
such behavior? “There seemed to be no point. When a soldier would do
it, a sergeant would be right there, doing nothing about it. I didn’t
get the sense anyone was going to help me.”
Then things got even
worse. James would find notes on her door daily, threatening physical
violence. The final straw arrived in the form of a note in which someone threatened to break
into James’s room at night and beat her to death while she was sleeping.
“Given that I was suffering through abuse already, I had every reason
to believe that whoever wrote the note meant it seriously.”
With two
weeks until she would be deployed in Afghanistan, James and her fellow
soldier Jeremy Daniel fled soon after she received that note, getting
into a car and leaving the Fort Campbell military base in
Kentucky. About an hour after leaving the base, James called a friend
from a gas station and learned that the police were looking for her.
She said she then felt like a “fugitive” and knew she had to escape. She and Daniel drove for 40 hours solid to the Canadian border, where they
managed to cross without passports or birth certificates.
Canadian border authorities could see we were with the military, so
they let us cross after seeing our military IDs. We told them we were
just visiting for the weekend.”
They contacted an Ottawa-based war
resisters’ group, who offered them shelter and legal advice. “I
actually felt like I didn’t have much choice but to leave,” says James.
“It had become so bad that I didn’t know who I would trust when I would
be deployed. I was more scared of the guys who were supposed to be
watching my back than the guys I was fighting against.”
As her case
is before the courts, James has a work permit and is employed at a
local call center. She says she’d ultimately like to get Canadian
citizenship and go to college.
James has become something of a
celebrity in Canada, interviewed by the gay press, on national TV, and
in the daily newspapers, with most of the coverage being overwhelmingly
supportive. (The Canadian military lifted the ban on gays and lesbians
in the military over a decade ago.) Her friends had the first profile
of her, in an Ottawa gay newspaper, framed for her.