Last Saturday, April 14, 2012, I came across a troubling post in one of the groups I belong to on Facebook. A soldier in the United States military wrote, "I was just shoved across the dance floor by my command sergeant major for being gay...lovely end to my active duty career."
The comments started flowing, and the soldier -- we'll call her Lucy (not her real name) -- who currently holds the rank of Captain, continued to explain the situation. While dancing with her girlfriend, another officer in her unit, at the Cavalry Squaldron Ball, Lucy's Squadron Commander took her girlfriend aside and told her, "You [both] need to stop dancing; the unit does not need this kind of publicity." When she asked what he meant, he said again, "You [both] need to get off the dance floor."
Then, their Command Sergeant Major (CSM) approached Lucy and told her he knew what she was doing and that it was wrong. When she explained that she had no idea what he was talking about, he brought up the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy. Lucy explained:
I reminded him that DADT was repealed... He then lowered his voiced and said, "You're a f***ing abomination, ma'am. You know what the f*** you did wrong and you're a disgrace." He stepped in closer to me within an inch of my face and told me to "have a good f***ing night, ma'am." I told him I didn't know why he was so angry and that I didn't do anything wrong. He then told me to "get the f*** out of my face." I remained calm from being absolutely stunned and confused by his behavior, and told him he was out of line; reminding him that I'm an officer he's talking to. When his threats didn't work and I didn't move, he shoved me hard across the dance floor and told me to "have a good f***ing night, ma'am."
While Lucy says that the Squadron Commander called her girlfriend the following day to apologize and let her know "that he accepts us as being gay and it in no way changes how he feels about us as officers," she says he continued to assert that "the incident with my CSM and me was a misunderstanding and that I took it the wrong way."
The details of the incident, however, cannot be ignored. How can calling someone "an abomination" for their sexual identity be misconstrued?
This may be the first instance of discrimination against LGBT service members since the prejudiced DADT military policy regarding sexual orientation was officially repealed on Sept. 20, 2011, or at least the first instance that I and many others have heard about.
Indeed, the stories in the media since that date have been mainly positive: the marriage of servicemen and women, like Navy Lt. Gary Ross and his partner, Dan Swezy, who had had to keep their relationship secret up until then; the first off-the-ship Navy kiss between Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta and Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell this past December; and the coming out of U.S. soldiers to their loved ones.
To assume that there has been no backlash against the DADT repeal would be naïve, Lucy's situation proving just that. At this point, she has filed a report with the military police, ignoring her commander's request that she merely "sweep this under the rug." At the very suggestion, Lucy told him:
This is much bigger than any of us. Not only was it a blatant hate crime, but an officer was assaulted by the most senior ranking enlisted we have in the entire unit. This was witnessed by a roomful of people who are outraged by the incident and are demanding justice. We as leaders lead from the front and set the example for the rest of the soldiers. I would think you'd want to send the message that hate crimes will not be tolerated in your organization and no one will be granted favoritism, especially when it comes to assault. So no sir, I will not simply let this go.
Scenarios like this must be publicized. In Lucy's own words, "I'm not going to let it go because if I do, then that sends the message that it's okay for anyone to assault LGBT servicemen and women."
Unfortunately, despite the CSM's actions being against the military code of conduct, and despite the initiation of an investigation into the incident, Lucy says, "I was told there most likely will be no real punishment." She adds, "They'll probably just tell him to retire." A defense of the actions of this particular CSM include rumored actions of Lucy and her girlfriend that were considered offensive to those present, and the fact that many people, especially in the military community, are simply not used to seeing two women dancing together. "An excuse I was given for my CSM's actions was, 'mixed with alcohol, emotions were heightened,'" Lucy explained, frustrated.
Right, because abuse is always justified by ignorance and beer.
In Lucy's own words:
In no way is this a good depiction of the military or my unit in general. I served with my unit in both Iraq and Afghanistan and never imagined something like this would ever happen. It's a very small percentage of military personnel that corrupt the image of the military in its entirety, and this incident was an example of the small-mindedness of that few.
I think it's important that America sees how LGBT servicemen and women are serving their country with honor, and shouldn't be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Most military personnel agree with that statement, and the support conveyed from so many of them and their spouses after seeing me assaulted by my Command Sergeant Major reflects just that.
I'm saddened and extremely disappointed in my CSM's actions. I hope the army will do the right thing with this investigation and send a message throughout the country that this behavior will not be tolerated in the military...Hopefully we can prevent incidents like this from ever happening again.