What Now?

When an organization’s focus is on changing a major injustice, oftentimes it can lose direction, drive, and ultimately, relevance when it’s successful at changing that injustice. So here we are. After years of hard work and advocacy to get us here, the Defense Department has finally recognized the same-gender spouses of service members.  So what now? Is our job finished?

Our mission is far from complete. At the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), our mission has never been about changing one policy. It’s always been about “connecting, supporting, honoring, and serving the partners and spouses of America’s LGBT service members and veterans – ‘our nation’s modern military families.’” What exactly does that mean? The answer is simple. We are focused on building and supporting strong military families. That doesn’t end with one change in law or policy.

Behind every service member is a family who serves. The whole point of “connecting, supporting, honoring, and serving” is to strengthen that military family through education, advocacy, and support. While there are many organizations out there dedicated to supporting military families, traditionally, LGBT military spouses and their families have been excluded and often made to feel unwelcome. After years of exclusion and being treated as if they don’t matter by mainstream organizations, where they go to for help and support doesn’t just suddenly change with a shift in policy.

Our mission continues in connecting and supporting. Whether through our online educational webinars where knowledge is power, our New Military Spouse Mentor Program designed to help MilSpouses on their new military journey, our local events around the country building a positive and supportive environment, or through our hosts of other projects, we remain committed to strengthening our military families by connecting and supporting them.

Our mission continues in honoring and serving. Institutionalized discrimination and personal bigotry is still very much alive and well. Our families still face a host of challenges in dealing with states and organizations around the country who continue to exclude them and deny them equal access, support, and protections as other military families receive. Whether it’s the lack of protections our families have in non-marriage equality states, discrimination by the National Guard in some states, a lack of military chaplain support by almost a quarter of military chaplains, the threat of discharge for identifying as transgender, or a lack of inclusion of sexual orientation in the Defense Department non-discrimination policy for uniformed service members, challenges remain and our work in advocacy continues.

So what now? Our mission continues. At AMPA, we remain committed to connecting, supporting, honoring, and serving our modern military families through education, support, and advocacy. With your help, we’ll continue to be agents of change and make a positive impact on our families.

Stephen Peters is the president of the American Military Partner Association. A Marine veteran, he also serves on the Spouse Council for the Military Officers Association of America and currently lives in Washington DC with his husband, who is an active duty Marine stationed at the Pentagon. Read more about our leadership here.

UPDATE: National Military Family Association Answers the Call For Inclusion of Same-sex Spouses for Military Spouse Scholarship!

The National Military Family Association has changed eligibility requirements in order to allow same-sex spouses the ability to apply for the Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship!

In the past, the scholarship had been restricted to military spouses with military ID cards.  In May of 2012, the American Military Partner Association asked them to drop this requirement which inadvertently excluded same-sex spouses thanks to out-dated Defense Department regulations which prohibit identification cards from being issued to same-sex spouses.  The American Military Partner Association followed up with this request with an open letter in December asking for the change again.  In response, requirements have been changed so that now instead of a military identification card, military spouses must show a copy of their marriage certificate along with other key documents.

We are pleased to see this inclusive change and applaud the National Military Family Association for their leadership and making sure all military spouses can now apply.

For more information on the scholarship and how you can apply, visit the National Military Family Association at http://www.militaryfamily.org/our-programs/military-spouse-scholarships/

 

The National Military Family Association provided the following statement:

If you are a military spouse working on your education, we encourage you to apply for the National Military Family Association’s Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Program, which is open to ALL military spouses. Eligible spouses must submit their applications online by January 31. Spouses married to a member of one of the seven Uniformed Services (active duty, retiree, National Guard, Reserve, and/or survivor) are eligible to apply. If you are selected to receive a scholarship, you must provide a copy of your marriage license/certificate as well as a document showing your spouse’s military affiliation (a complete list of required documents can be found on the Association’s scholarship page under “What you need to know.”)

Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director of the National Military Family Association, stated “We pride ourselves on meeting the needs of all military families and are proud to help military spouses afford their continued education. Our top priority for the program is to ensure that only military spouses receive aid and requiring an ID card for our scholarship in the past prevented ineligible spouses from taking financial support they were not qualified to receive. While our Association has been working on a remedy that would protect spouses in same-sex marriages in the same way, the solution has not come quick enough. As a result, we have made specific changes to our scholarship program’s verification process to stay true to our goal of helping military spouses contribute to their family’s financial security by getting meaningful employment.”

 

An Open Letter to the National Military Family Association: Please Stop Excluding Same-sex Military Spouses

Dear National Military Family Association,

In May of 2012 at the Outserve “Our Families Matter” summit, I asked your organization to include same-sex military spouses for consideration of your military spouse scholarship. When asked why your organization was excluding them by requiring a military ID card, your Government Relations Director, Kathleen Moakler, said it was simply a “matter of paperwork.”  I was hopeful then that you would take action to include all military spouses.  I also followed up with this request to Ms. Moakler by email after the summit.

Sadly, to date, nothing has changed.  Eight months later as we move into the New Year, your requirements still exclude same-sex military spouses from competing for the scholarship.  As you are aware, because of out-dated Defense Department regulations, our same-sex spouses are denied military identification cards.  Because your organization wishes to support all military families, I again humbly ask you to change the eligibility requirements for your scholarship. As I originally suggested in May, a simple fix to the “matter of paperwork” could be requiring a marriage certificate.

The challenges all military spouses face in terms of paying for education to enable them to find a job that will help “contribute to their family’s financial security,” as your mission states, is well recognized by your organization. Your scholarship could particularly assist same-sex military spouses given the financial constraints they face in light of regulations currently excluding them as military dependents. For example, same-sex military spouses do not have access to the same education assistance as their married heterosexual counterparts. Nowhere else would your scholarship make a more significant financial and educational impact in terms of achieving your organization’s mission than with our LGBT military families.

In North Carolina, another organization, the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses, recently denied one of our members admission to their spouse club on the basis that she did not have a military identification card. Fundamentally, you are doing the same thing by denying same-sex spouses the ability to apply for your scholarship.  As a national organization whose mission is to support all military families, I know you’ll take the lead in sending a strong message that the exclusion of our families is simply wrong.

I hope you will take action in changing the eligibility requirements for your spouse scholarship and include same-sex military spouses. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to you.

Semper Fidelis,
Stephen Peters
President, The American Military Partner Association

UPDATE: National Military Family Association Answers the Call for Inclusion!

 

UPDATE: Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses Attempts to Solidify Discrimination

UPDATE: In response to the American Military Partner Association’s open letter, the Fort Bragg Association of Officer’s Spouses has attempted to solidify their exclusion of same-sex military spouses. Instead of allowing a lesbian military spouse to join, the Association responded by adding the requirement of an “active ID card” to their list of requirements on their website and Facebook page (their Facebook has since been deleted). As of 9 December 2012, this was not a membership requirement listed in either place.  

More importantly, this is not a requirement listed in their bylaws which state one must only be a military spouse.

Ashley Broadway is the spouse of an active duty commissioned officer of the United States Army and should therefore qualify. Additionally, the below document was also found that outlines membership requirements which clearly only state one must be a military spouse.

Bottom Line:

This is a direct attack on same-sex spouses of service members.  The Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses has no legitimate reason to deny Ashley Broadway membership because she meets the requirements outlined in the Association’s bylaws.

Please sign our petition!

Read Ashley’s original open letter here.

Remembering an American Hero

In loving memory of U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Donna R. Johnson, who gave the ultimate sacrifice to our nation in Afghanistan on Monday, October 1, 2012. Staff Sergeant Johnson is survived by her wife, Tracy Dice.

Donna Johnson and Tracy Dice were married on Valentine’s Day of 2012 in a simple but intensely meaningful ceremony befitting their 5 1/2-year relationship. “We were going to get married after getting back from our first deployments together, but I wanted more than a domestic partnership or just a commitment ceremony for us,” says Tracy. “I wanted a marriage for her. I don’t know why, but that’s what I wanted for her.”  So in a whirlwind trip, Donna and Tracy traveled to Washington, DC, together and tied the knot this past February.

The couple wanted to wed sooner, but they also worried that their military careers might be jeopardized if anyone found out while “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was still in place. After repeal of the law was solidly and successfully implemented, Donna and Tracy decided that the time was right to take the next step in their lives together. “I know it’s cliché, but being married changed me so dramatically,” Tracy admits. “I felt myself change emotionally and spiritually. I honestly grew more and more in love with her.”

Tracy and Donna last spoke by phone on Sunday, September 30th, in what Tracy recalls as a happy call. As the conversation concluded, Donna mentioned that she would be busy the next day but assured her wife that she would definitely call her again on Monday. As they said goodbye to one another, Tracy recalls cautioning herself against thinking that their relationship was too perfect, even though all seemed to be going perfectly well. But Tracy embraced the philosophy that if improvement is no longer sought (in anything), then God may take it away from you.

When Tracy awoke the following morning and had not yet heard from Donna again, she immediately began searching the media, which she had thus far avoided doing since Donna deployed.  When she came face to face with a news report about a suicide bomber attack against U.S. military personnel in Khowst, Afghanistan that day, her worst fears began to set in.

“I knew it was her immediately,” she recalled. “I started calling other spouses and when they had not heard from their loved ones either, I knew they were on blackout.” Soon thereafter, Tracy and the rest of the Johnson family were notified of the horrific news. Donna had been among the three U.S. service members killed in the line of duty that day.

Premonitions can be eerily accurate sometimes, and Tracy says that a gut feeling haunted her before Donna’s final deployment: “I had a feeling before she left that I was never going to see her again. I guess that’s why I never got tired of talking to her. Each day was a surprise and was precious. I knew it, and I loved it.”

Tracy and Donna had thankfully made the most of their time together. The two loved to travel and the beach was Donna’s favorite place to go.  ”We lived life fully this past year and we left no stone unturned,” Tracy recalls. “We lived as the song said, ‘Live Like You Were Dying.’ And we did.”

Donna was very a private person, but if she allowed you into her inner circle then you really got to know what a wonderful human being she was. “I am glad she chose me for that inner-most circle,” Tracy says. Although they hailed form different parts of the country, Tracy made the decision to settle down with Donna in North Carolina because Donna loved her home state so much. Although she knows that Donna would have moved back to Tracy’s home state of Indiana with her had she really wanted her to, Tracy just did not have the heart to take Donna away from the home she loved so much. So instead, they made their home there together in North Carolina and never looked back.

Tracy says that the military has treated her as Donna’s spouse in many aspects throughout this process. There are also many aspects where their hands are bound by law. “The military is a big machine with multiple operating parts,” she explains. “We often forget those parts are made of humans, and each one of those humans has treated me with kindness and love, with tears in their eyes as well for my grief. They may not officially recognize our marriage, but I have more than that. I had her love from our marriage and that means more to me.”

Likewise, Donna’s family continues to embrace Tracy as well. “Her family has treated me as her spouse and respects me as such,” she says. “I love her mother dearly. I sometimes think that the only reason Donna married me was because I was so much like her mother. And you know what? That’s not all that bad either.”

Rob & Bobby

Bobby recalls with distinct clarity the day he and Rob met: “Rob and I met May 22, 2003, in Tampa, while he was working on his Masters in Latin American studies for his track in the Army.” Rob, a Foreign Area Officer (FAO), is currently stationed in Central America. Bobby and Rob are also parents of a 17-year-old son.

Current discriminatory law, regulations, and policies greatly impact their family.  For example, since Rob is stationed in Central America, although legally married, it has been a challenge for their family as they serve our nation in a foreign country.  Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, Bobby is not “command sponsored” and cannot be listed on Rob’s military orders to Central America.  This means he doesn’t get the assistance heterosexual spouses receive like spousal preference for employment, a diplomatic passport/visa, and access to his husband’s healthcare. Having to pay out-of-pocket for private health insurance in addition to a lack of a second income, service to our nation has become a definite challenge for their family.  The need for recognition of same-sex military spouses is clear.

The repeal of DADT was a huge burden lifted off of their family’s shoulders.  Rob points out: “We rejoiced when DADT was repealed and grateful for the many leaders that made the repeal a reality for us. Eight years living together was a sacrifice requiring an incredible commitment that challenged the relationship many times. The typical weekend family activities had to be planned to prevent exposure. Work colleagues and the military community had to be evaded. The enjoyment of most occasions were always challenged by the paranoia of being discovered.”

The burden was also shared by their teenage son.  It prevented his school friends (many of military parents) from coming into the house to protect his father from expulsion, even though he wanted to spend time with them. Only the bonds of love that united the family kept it together. Although not as severe as before, the challenges of staying together remain today because it’s uncertain if the couple will be able to continue their lives together in Central America.

Like many other same-sex military couples who have experienced isolation, Bobby sought out the American Military Partner Association for support and sense of family. “For me, AMPA has been an amazing support, and a great resource of information. I can come to the group with any issue, whether big or small, and know that I will always have, not just one, but many people there to help me. From sage advice to sarcastic banter, it seems there is always someone who knows exactly what I’m going through and just what to say to make me feel better.”

Ashley & Heather

While Ashley and her partner Heather have been a solid team for 15 years in November, they met while playing soccer in Columbus, GA, on opposing teams, while Heather was stationed at Ft. Benning. Heather is a Major in the Army who originally hails from Chicago, while Ashley blooms wherever she is planted.

Heather is a Logistics officer, while Ashley was an educator for 13 years before they made the decision for Ashley to assume the “Stay at Home” role of motherhood for their 2-year-old son. If DOMA were to be repealed or ruled unconstitutional, Ashley could be recognized as the wife and mother she is, and not dubbed under the dubious title of “caregiver.” This would allow her access to the base and all its facilities, as well as support systems and benefits. Ashley would also receive health insurance, as a spouse, which would save their family $400 dollars a month.

Currently living near Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, they have been through numerous deployments and PCS moves (all out of pocket due to DADT and DOMA).  For Ashley, AMPA has offered a way to connect to other military partners and to “share our knowledge to assist with issues, problems, concerns…in particular, to assist those with children,” which is her passion.

In addition to their love of soccer, football, and volunteering for animal rescues, Heather is an artist in her spare time. Ashley was chosen as District Teacher of the Year in 2008 while they lived in El Paso, and is a member of AMPA’s National Steering Committee.  With the repeal of DADT, Ashley also had the pleasure of being invited by the First Lady of the United States to attend the annual White House Mother’s Day event as the first openly gay military partner/mother. You can read about her experience at the Huffington Post.

Kenton & Johnny

On the heels of Independence Day and amidst the increased activity due to the RIMPAC exercise at Joint Base Pearl-Harbor Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii, Kenton and Johnny Wandasan had their Civil Union ceremony performed at the Hickam Officer’s Club.  According to the catering manager, this was the first same-gender “wedding” ceremony and reception that the Hickam Officer’s Club has ever hosted.

Maj. Johnny Wandasan recently completed a combat command of a CH47 Chinook company that was deployed across two Regional Commands in Afghanistan, and is now actively serving as a Senior Aviation Advisor and Assistant Brigade Operations Officer for an Infantry Training Brigade.  The former Kenton Chang, now Kenton Wandasan, is an alumnus of Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu, Hawaii, and is a Respiratory Technician at Queen’s Hospital.

The July 6th date holds a special meaning to Kenton and Johnny, as does the venue; Johnny received his commissioning from the 298th Regimental Training Institute’s Officer Candidate School program at the Hickam Officer’s Club, back in August 2000.

The repeal of DADT aided tremendously in transitioning from a life of secrecy to a life of openness and acceptance in the military.  Kenton and Johnny recently attended a Farewell event for the Senior Enlisted Advisor from Johnny’s previous unit and both were made to feel welcome.  In fact, a Platoon Sergeant from Johnny’s unit, along with other non-commissioned officers, volunteered to assist with the DJ and music entertainment during their wedding.

There is still a long road ahead for the couple, but their status as “husbands” in a Civil Union has certainly energized their hopes and desires for more acceptance and involvement in unit functions, and Family Readiness Program (FRG) activities.  For them, the repeal of DOMA is the beacon of hope that is still in sight, off in the distance.  Basic privileges, such as access to base shopping and fitness facilities, and ultimately being recognized as a family member by the DoD are but a handful of the many benefits that Kenton and Johnny are both hoping and praying for through the furtherance of marriage equality laws.

Kenton and Johnny currently reside in Honolulu, Hawaii, and are together raising a year-and-ten-month old American Pitbull, nicknamed “Haas”.  They often talk and dream about one day growing their family through adoption.

Lauren & Christie

Lauren and Christie were friends long before they became a couple. Lauren hails from Plymouth Massachusetts, while Christie was an Air Force brat from Virginia. They met at a coffee shop where Lauren worked and Christie frequented while stationed at Hanscom AFB.  After moving down to Virginia as roomates, Christie went to law school through the Air Force Excess Leave Program and Lauren finished her BA at Lynchburg College.

Currently, Lauren lives in San Diego, finishing her MA in American Literature and Christie is stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ. Christie is a captain and cross-trained from an acquisitions officer into the JAG corps last year.  Lauren feels lucky to be able to spend many weekends, breaks, and the entire summer with Christie in Tuscon, but is preparing for Christie’s first deployment to Afghanistan. Asked how she feels about the upcoming deployment, Lauren said, “Extremely proud and extremely nervous”.

Due to the implications of DOMA, Lauren and Christie are also not immune to the impacts this has upon their daily lives. “If the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was repealed, and/or we were federally recognized as a couple, Christie and I would have a very different life in small and large ways. I could meet her for lunch on base without prior planning. I could go grocery shopping at the commissary or get things for the house at the BX. Christie wouldn’t have to worry about my safety (as much) because I would have health insurance. We could start a family and know that the kids were also covered without having to go through extraordinary, burdensome measures. That family would be a part of the USAF community in which Christie was raised.” Lauren explains.

As AMPA has reached out to hundreds of same-sex military couples, Lauren and Christie enjoy the new found joys of having other partners to talk with, share stories, ask questions, and celebrate in each other’s victories as well as sorrows. Lauren has been able to meet with some of the AMPA members face-to-face and looks forward to many more introductions. “There is an unspoken (and often spoken) understanding between all members, regardless of sex or branch. I am so grateful that AMPA found me.”

In sharing about her family, Lauren concludes: “I have a true partnership with my best friend. We encourage each other, we challenge each other, and we teach each other. I laugh harder with Christie than with anyone else. We are avid Red Sox fans and love to brew and taste beers. We are both so excited to find where we’ll be stationed next so that we can plan the next phase of our lives…that will, regardless of location, include a wine cellar and brewing forum!”

Josh & Will

Josh and Will met in Texas, shortly after high school. At the time, Josh had been involved quite a bit with FFA (Future Farmers of America) in raising and showing cattle. A friend had asked Josh to help get his cows ready for the State Fair, and in a twist of fate, one of the other cow hands the friend had asked just happened to be Will. While shyness got the best of them that day, Will stepped forward and initiated, asking for Josh’s number, and the two have been together since.

Josh and Will have already more than met the “military partner quota” with 4 TDY’s and 1 deployment.  Standing solidly by his side, Josh covers the home front in their Dallas home working as a literature distributor (book seller). They have one “furry son” named Domino, who is great with emotional support during Will’s deployment.

Will is an E4 in the Army, currently serving a deployment in Kuwait until early 2013. When asked about challenges being in the military, Will responded “The hardest job in the military isn’t going on deployment, being a service member, or any of that. It’s the family that we leave behind. Without them, these armed forces wouldn’t be as powerful as they are now.”

While the repeal of DADT removed the threat that Will could be discharged for loving Josh, there are still hurdles that need to be jumped in regards to laws and policies that currently preclude their family from receiving support and benefits.  This lack of support hurts their family not only financially when it comes to housing allowance, but also when it comes to Josh not being allowed the emotional support of family readiness programs offered to heterosexual families, especially during deployments.  They would like to see their family recognized by the military through the same lens and with the same respect, instead of being treated as if they are somehow second-class.

Josh has recognized AMPA as a refuge and source of emotional support: “As a military partner, it gives me a way to connect with other people who are going through the same things that I am. It gives me a place to vent when I need to or seek advice and guidance from more experienced people who have been through the storms and seen the harder side of our lives.” Josh believes that, “Although the military life is difficult sometimes, I’ve been blessed with finding my soul mate, and I thoroughly look forward to our future together.”