Connect with us

Military Special

Evelyn Thomas: going to jail for justice

Black women were less than one percent of service members before 2010, but were 3.3 percent of all DADT discharges

Published

on

Former Marine Cpl. arrested outside the White House Nov. 2010 protesting DADT (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

(Editor’s note: Thomas enlisted in the Army National Guard at 17 in 1986; she was transferred to the U.S. Marine Corps in Camp Pendleton, California where she was outed as a lesbian; she was honorably discharged in 1991.)

I watched as the roach crawled down the jail cell wall near my head. I press my head down on the baloney sandwich I used as a pillow. The pressing thought on my mind that night was, “what will I tell my mother?”  By this time, I honorably served in two branches of the military. I attended and graduated from college with a Master’s degree. I was a high school teacher. More importantly, I was the first in my family to become an elected official.

She was proud of me. My success in life demonstrated that all those hardships she endured rearing me in this crazy world was worth it. I thought, when my mother reads about this in the newspaper, I hope she will understand the reason I risked so much. One of her goals as a Black mother was to ensure I did not end up in jail. She did not want me to become a statistic. She wanted better for me.

As a single Black mother, she had the talk with me. She taught me at a young age, some people in this world will hate you because of the color of your skin. She talked with me about the Montgomery bus boycotts, Merger Evers, Rosa Parks, and Dr. King. She had the famous photo of the Woolworth Counter sit-in. She talked of the courage those Black men had to sit at the counter. She would go on to say, the photo does not tell the full story. She said, “In some cases White people would spit on them, throw food at them, scream vile and nasty words while standing inches from their face. They practiced non-violence. They risked being harmed so that one day, Black people would have justice and freedom in this country.”

My mother had this talk with me many times. This message kept playing over and over in my brain, when I was asked to participate in the direct action, nonviolent protest of The White House Six. I had to risk it all and muster the courage to represent the Women of Color of the LGBT community oppressed by this inhuman law of DADT.

Still to this day, I think it was one of President Obama’s greatest achievements. I had the opportunity to thank him the day he signed the bill to repeal DADT.

I gave him a Sanctuary Project Veterans wrist band. Then I asked him, “May I hug you on behalf of all the Women of Color impacted by DADT? He said, “Yes.” Then I wrapped arms around him and hugged President Barack Obama. I never thought it would happen in my lifetime. I had the opportunity to meet the first Black man America elected as our President. He was more than the leader of our government. He became a legacy to me when he repealed DADT.

It was not an easy decision for me to become a member of The White House Six. The moment I, as a Black Woman, handcuffed my wrist to the White House fence, I risked becoming an enemy to Black America. To some Black people it was a slap in the face to betray Our President in that manner.

It was more important for me to represent the Women of Color impacted by DADT. I had to represent the voiceless women that suffered in silence. In some cases, DADT was used as a tool to commit sexual coercion. Those women never had justice because those women could not report the crime. Lesbians were given a choice: let me rape you or lose your career. I compared it to plantation owners sneaking down to slave quarters at night to rape a female slave. Enlisting in the military was an escape from poverty. I had to take that risk.

Now we have Donald Trump. When he was elected someone snatched down the curtain to reveal the psyche of America, as it spiraled out of control. Our democratic process is in shambles. This president’s legacy is to persecute, destroy, and kill. He uses his power to spread hate. He made the decision to erase a population of people with a stroke of a pen, he demonstrated we do not matter to him. He declared war on my people.

I was in Washington D.C. on the day of Trump’s Inauguration. I never used my ticket provided by Congressman Darrell Issa. I did not attend the event. I kept the ticket. Instead, I attended the Washington D.C. Women’s March. I witnessed a shift in the cultural climate to something I do not recognize. I saw a sea of Pink Pussy hats down Independence Avenue. Women from around the nation gathered to protest Donald Trump, his anti-human rights administration. I met a 90-year old Black grandmother who came with her family. As she sat in her wheelchair, she said, “it was important for my daughter and grandchild to be apart of this movement. Women are doing it for themselves.” My thought was: I wish my mother was here with me to experience this and see the power of women. 

I think it is time for women to take their rightful place. We must because Trump has declared war on us.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Military Special

Breaking the silence: 10 years after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

A special program exploring the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the fight to repeal it and how it continues to affect those who serve

Published

on

The Military Women's Memorial at the gateway entrance to Arlington National Cemetery (Photo Credit: Military Women's Memorial)

ARLINGTON – This year marks the 10 year anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. This change in legislation allowed countless lesbian, gay and bisexual servicemembers to serve openly, but the negative effects of the policy continue to affect veterans today.

The Military Women’s Memorial put on a special program exploring the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the fight to repeal it and how it continues to affect those who serve. MG (R) Tammy Smith joins to discuss her career, how she lived her life under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military and her advocacy to repeal the policy.

The program also explores how the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy continues to impact people’s lives. The program Saturday, October 2, 2021, is moderated by Jennifer Dane, Air Force veteran and president of the Modern Military Association of America.

Breaking the Silence: 10 Years After “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

Continue Reading

Military Special

VA Secretary announces benefits for vets discharged under DADT

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell forced about 14,000 service members out of the military during the 17 years that the policy was in place

Published

on

Graphic via The Department of Veterans Affairs

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Monday that LGBTQ veterans who were given ‘other-than-honorable discharges’ under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy before its repeal in 2011, will now be eligible for VA benefits, including health care, disability compensation, home loans and burial benefits.

Timing of the new policies was made to coincide with the anniversary of the repeal of DADT on Monday.

In a blog post Monday, Kayla Williams, the assistant secretary for public affairs in VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs wrote:

“At VA, we continuously work not only to meet the needs of LGBTQ+ Veterans, but also to address ongoing issues that LGBTQ+ Veterans face as a result of the military’s decades-long official policy of homophobia and transphobia,” Williams, who identifies as bisexual continued, “[…] LGBTQ+ Veterans are not any less worthy of the care and services that all Veterans earn through their service, and VA is committed to making sure that they have equal access to those services.”

Under the new guidance VA Secretary Denis McDonough sent to VA adjudicators on Monday, VA adjudicators, who decide whether to approve veterans’ claims for VA benefits, will no longer consider veterans ineligible because of their discharges for sexual orientation or gender identity, said Williams.

The VA will award a veteran his or her benefits unless the person’s military record shows another reason that he or she doesn’t qualify.

This policy statement does not represent a change in law, as Veterans who were discharged under DADT alone have been generally eligible for benefits under current statute and regulation. However, this policy reiterates what constitutes eligibility for benefits under law.

In addition, every ‘Character of Discharge’ case that is initially considered for denial will also get a second look before that action is taken. Given that large numbers of LGBTQ+ Veterans who were affected by previous homophobic and transphobic policies have not applied for a discharge upgrade due to the perception that the process could be onerous, “we are hopeful that this policy statement encourages more of them to contact VA to determine their eligibility for care and services,” Williams wrote.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell forced about 14,000 service members out of the military during the 17 years that the policy was in place. The policy was enacted under former President Bill Clinton’s administration in 1993, and it was repealed by former President Barack Obama on Sept. 20, 2011.

“Although VA recognizes that the trauma caused by the military’s decades-long policy of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people cannot be undone in a few short months, the Biden administration and Secretary McDonough are taking the steps necessary to begin addressing the pain that such policies have created,” Williams said.

“Given that large numbers of LGBTQ+ veterans who were affected by previous homophobic and transphobic policies have not applied for a discharge upgrade due to the perception that the process could be onerous, we are hopeful that this policy statement encourages more of them to contact VA to determine their eligibility for care and services,” she added.

Continue Reading

Military Special

LGBTQ Vets with ‘less than honorable’ discharges will receive VA benefits

This will extend medical care, disability payouts, employment assistance & other benefits previously blocked

Published

on

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: GSA)

TYSONS CORNERS, Va. – Sources within the United States Department of Veterans Affairs have told Military Times this week that tens of thousands of LGBTQ veterans who were discharged from the U.S. armed services over the past seventy years, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, will soon be able to receive full Veterans Affairs benefits.

In an article published Friday, Military Times White House Bureau Chief and Veterans Affairs correspondent Leo Shane III reported that an official announcement is set for sometime Monday, the tenth anniversary of the repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell’ law signed by then President Obama.

U.S. Veteran’s Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough has made a commitment to honoring the service of LGBTQ Veterans pledging to make the VA a place that “welcomes all veterans, including women, veterans of color, and LGBTQ veterans.” 

In a Pride month speech this past June at the Orlando VA Healthcare System’s 11th Annual Pride Month Celebration, the Secretary highlighted the record of the first Gay man to openly challenged the military ban on LGBTQ service, Technical Sergeant Leonard Phillip Matlovich, United States Air Force:

For generations, service members who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or related identities faced brazen discrimination or even worse—not just in our Armed Forces, but in so many aspects of their lives. They lived in fear—of shunning, of violence, of having their lives turned upside down. And when it came to putting on the uniform and serving our country, they feared being denied that higher calling, too, simply because of who they were and who they loved.

When I think of those injustices, I think of Leonard Matlovich. Leonard Matlovich was a Vietnam War Veteran, a recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star, and a gay man who came out to the military and the world by appearing on the cover of TIME magazine in 1975.

He quickly became a symbol of defiance and freedom for so many LGBTQ+ people in America. He was also quickly issued an Other Than Honorable discharge from the Armed Forces, despite twelve years of decorated service.

Years later, after Matlovich passed, his grave became a rallying site for LGBTQ+ servicemembers everywhere. Instead of his name, he chose to inscribe his gravestone with a short phrase: “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”

The Secretary made it clear that the VA bureaucracy is capable of implementing this new policy although Shane noted that individuals with dishonorable discharges or clear criminal history documented in their service records will still not be granted benefits under the new plan.

The new move will extend VA medical care, disability payouts, employment assistance and other benefits individuals previously blocked because of other-than-honorable discharges.

Department legal officials believe the change will not require any new legislative action or policy statements, because the department already has broad authority to interpret which veterans are eligible for department services, the Military Times reported.

During his Pride speech in Orlando, also addressed healthcare concerns for LGBTQ veterans, especially Trans vets:

“We’re making these changes not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives. Due in part to minority stress, LGBTQ+ Veterans experience mental illness and suicidal thoughts at far higher rates than those outside their community, but they are significantly less likely to seek routine care, largely because they fear discrimination. This perpetuates a cycle in which LGBTQ+ individuals have lower rates of access to preventive care services, utilize health care services less frequently, and have more negative experiences with health care.

That’s unacceptable. And at VA, we’re doing everything in our power to show Veterans of all sexual orientations and gender identities that they can talk openly, honestly, and comfortably with their health care providers about any issues they may be experiencing.”

Further details are expected Monday as the Biden White House is also expected to mark the ending of DADT ten years ago. President Biden, who was Vice-President at the time has made LGBTQ equality rights a priority of his administration.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular