Introduced by a mutual friend, Shaina and Lori met about three and a half years ago in Las Vegas at an International Rugby 7s Tournament.  While the timing was ‘off’ for both at the time, it was no surprise that their paths crossed again in the spring of 2011. The same mutual friend arranged a weekend get-away with a group of friends, enticing each individually with the assurance the other would be attending. “We had a blast together the entire weekend, especially on the dance floor! And the rest as they say is history.”

Lori relocated from San Francisco to be with Shaina in San Diego, where the two have just purchased their first home together in May. Before Lori relocated from San Francisco, they spent about a year in a long-distance relationship and tried to visit each other every few weeks, as busy schedules would permit.  The year tested their resolve and their relationship, but both wanted to make sure that Lori had a job with benefits before making that leap of faith.

Lori was an Assistant Professor at a School of Pharmacy, teaching the medical management of infectious diseases, designing and performing clinical research, and providing direct patient care as the HIV/AIDS clinical pharmacist for the local county hospital. She now teaches Health policy as an Assistant Professor at a school of pharmacy and as a Regulatory Pharmacist at a local academic health facility.

Shaina is a Marine Corps CH-46E Pilot stationed in San Diego and is currently a department head at a training squadron that has a variety of missions, including training aircrew and supporting fleet assault support requirements on the west coast.

In addition to her commitments as a USMC Helicopter Pilot, Shaina is on the USA Rugby Women’s National Team. Both of these have a demanding training and travel schedule quite often leading to time away from home and apart from each other. Additionally, Lori’s research, work, and other commitments outside of work also often involve travel. Both are hopeful that their independence, experience with distance and time apart, and communication will be assets in coping when the time for deployment or permanent change of station (PCS) comes. With plans to start a family once DOMA is repealed, currently sharing their new abode is their Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Toby.

As with many AMPA couples, Shaina and Lori are hampered by the burden of having to pay more and make due with less under the current DOMA policies and California’s Prop 8. Changes in policies would enable Lori and Shaina to feel more secure when asked to pick up and move as a couple, not as a single person, paying out of pocket expenses to move Lori. “In addition, while we are in a committed relationship and own a home together, Shaina receives housing allowance at the single rate, about $400 less a month than her married heterosexual counterparts,” Lori said.  “We are planning on having children in the future, and have concerns about how our children’s benefits may differ depending on the reproductive option we choose.”

Access to the base is a problem for many AMPA families, including for Lori. A surprise lunch for Shaina, or a “goodie” package for the squadron requires base access. Lori has to email the Family Readiness Officer to double check that she is eligible to attend certain events for service members and/or their significant others.  “These small things, while seemingly insignificant compared to larger issues of unequal access to health benefits, are where significant frustration lies because they only serve to magnify how deep the inequalities penetrate into everyday life,” explains Lori.

“Finding and connecting with AMPA immediately provided a sense of relief; relief that we had a group of incredibly supportive service members and their partners that serve as an amazing nation-wide network for information, advocacy, and friendship,” Lori said. “As a group we have shared concerns, from coping with maintaining a healthy relationship during deployments or PCS moves, to dependency status as it relates to having children, to how to best integrate military life within our own individual lives given the constraints and differences it poses for same-sex couples. It certainly helps us feel secure in knowing we have a network of knowledgeable and caring people who understand our concerns, and that we can fall back on them for support when we need it.”

As part of the mission in connecting, supporting, honoring and serving the partners and spouses of America’s LGBT service members and veterans, AMPA has a powerful ability to reach out to both the public as well as elected officials to educate them regarding inequalities faced by same-sex couples. “It is vitally important to get the word out that the repeal of DADT was insufficient in providing full equality,” said Lori. “What we need is the ability to communicate this problem to members of Congress and high-level Defense Department officials so that they can enact policies that provide all service members with equal benefits. Given its national representation, AMPA possesses great potential to effect real legislative change by serving as a voice for military members and their partners in our fight for equal rights.”