Norfolk, Virginia – With little or no privacy, and nowhere to escape from his anti-gay torment, a sailor targeted for harassment aboard nuclear submarine USS Florida (SSBN/SSGN – 728), became the center of a homophobic hazing case that has created a public relations nightmare for the U.S. Navy. The Associated Press revealed that the Navy released its report in March detailing months of anti-gay taunts against the unnamed submariner–leading to the dismissal of the Chief of the Boat, the submarine’s top non-commissioned officer. Master Chief Machinist’s Mate Charles Berry was fired by Captain Stephen Gillespie “for dereliction of duty” related to his failure to report and advise the commanding officer of the boat on issues arising among enlisted men.
The targeted sailor whose identity and sexual orientation have not be released in the investigative report, suffered incessant anti-gay jokes, was subjected to anti-gay epithets and nicknames, and was the victim of an alleged attempted rape at knife point by a man while the Florida was in a foreign port of call–Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Prior the the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the sailor was constantly taunted to “come out of the closet” as a gay man and jeered at for having a Filipino boyfriend, the ethnicity of the attempted rapist. He was labeled “Brokeback” for the famous gay-themed motion picture, Brokeback Mountain. The Navy report said that the sailor endured the harassment because he thought it would cease at some point. After eight months of constant homophobic harassment in 2011, the sailor finally passed along a note for help, saying that the combination of the attempted rape, the hounding, and the constant pressure put on him by crew members was driving him to suicide, or to an act of violence against his tormentors.
The Navy report says that sailors who participated in the hazing did not appreciate the psychological harm their actions caused their shipmate. The report also states that Chief Berry did not participate in the anti-gay hazing of the sailor, but did not report what was going on to his superior officers, either. As background to the embarrassing revelations of anti-gay abuse, the report also detailed that the Florida had developed a whole culture of heterosexist and homophobic prejudice, and detailed a number of examples.
In response, the Navy ordered training and counseling up and down the line to prevent anything like this from happening again. Besides the chief of the boat, several junior crew members who participated in the anti-gay harassment have also faced disciplinary actions, including loss of rank and pay. In its March 30 statement to the public, the Navy said: “The Navy’s standards for personal behavior are very high and it demands that sailors are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. When individuals fall short of this standard of professionalism and personal behavior, the Navy will take swift and decisive action to stop undesirable behavior, protect victims and hold accountable those who do not meet its standards.”
This week, Vice Admiral John Richardson who commands the Norfolk-based submarine force, issued a blog post in response to the scandal this incident had created in the submarine service in which he focuses attention on the importance of character in Navy life. “A violation by one seems to be a violation against all,” the admiral wrote.
The USS Florida, an Ohio-class nuclear submarine homeported at Naval Submarine Base King’s Bay, Georgia, participated in action against Libyan forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi in March 2011 by launching scores of Tomahawk missiles, the only one of the four Ohio-class SSGNs available to serve in Operation Odyssey Dawn. Apparently, the senseless anti-gay torment of the sailor in question was going full tilt during the period of combat operations.
“Be yourself no matter what they say!” ~ Sting, lyrics from “An Englishman in New York.” In the New Year 2012, our wish for all our loyal supporters of the Unfinished Lives Project is for each and everyone of us to be ourselves–in hope and joy, need or plenty, LGBTQ and GenderQueer and Intersex, from every walk of life, ability or the lack thereof, and in the audacity of the queer imagination.
It has been a tough, heartbreaking, wonderful year, as the photo of the first official lesbian kiss for the U.S. Navy post-DADT testifies. Virginia Pilot photographer Brian Clark caught on the the most striking LGBTQ images of the year when Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta kissed her girlfriend, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell December 21 at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Hampton Roads, Virginia. Petty Officer Gaeta had just completed a tour of duty that took her and the crew of the USS Oak Hill to Central America. Officials acknowledged that the kiss, an iconic tradition in the Navy, is the first done by a same-sex couple in U.S. naval history. The couple won a raffle to decide who would get the opportunity to carry out the tradition when the ship docked. From the Virginia Pilot:
Until September, when the military’s ban on openly gay service was lifted, they worked hard to keep their relationship secret. When Snell came home from her last deployment in August, kissing on the pier wasn’t an option.
“This is the first time we can actually show who we are,” she says.
Adds Gaeta, “It’s nice to be able to be myself.”
Yes. It is nice. And groundbreaking. Every time LGBTQ people act according to their power, no matter what others may say, the world changes just a little bit more in favor of diversity. That is worth celebrating! From all of us at the Unfinished Lives Project Team to all of you, a wish for an authentically, joyously, fulfilling New Year!
Arlington, Virginia – Klansmen joined in a counter-protest attempting to screen military funerals from a Westboro Baptist Church picket at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day weekend. The Fred Phelps-founded protestors, made infamous by their “God Hates Fags” campaign and their more recent demonstrations at the funerals of fallen United States military servicemembers, found themselves confronted by a number of members of the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist KKK cell based in Powhatan, Virginia, according to the Hatewatch post of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Including the KKK, 70 counter-protestors waved American flags and held up pro-USA signs, blocking the funerals in progress from the demonstrators holding signs brandishing such slogans as “Fag Nation,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pray for More Dead Soldiers,” and “Thank God for IED’s,” typical of the anti-American message propounded by the Topeka, Kansas Baptist church in its continuing opposition to “homosexual lifestyles.”
Dennis LaBonte, spokesperson for the Knights of the Southern Cross Soldiers, said that their counter-protest was in defense of freedom of speech and in support of the U.S. military. LaBonte told reporters that it was the military in this country that fought to defend the rights of groups like Phelps’s Topeka, Kansas church which recently successfully defended itself before the U.S. Supreme Court against a suit brought by the parent of a Marine killed in combat–a soldier whose funeral had been picketed by the Westboro zealots to condemn the “fag-enabling ways” of the nation. “It’s the soldier that fought and died and gave them that right,” LaBonte said. Responding to the Klan counter-protestors, Abigail Phelps, an attorney as are many of her siblings, complained to CNN that people should not “idolize” soldiers who died in national service, or anyone else who died in an “unrighteous cause.” When directly asked about her reaction to the presence of KKK members in opposition to the Westboro Baptist demonstration, she told the reporter, “They have no moral authority on anything.” According to yourblackworld.com, Phelps went on to say, “People like them say it’s white power … white supremacy. The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that it’s an abomination to be born of a certain gender or race.”
Nationalism makes strange bedfellows, indeed–enlisting bigots in competing demonstrations against other bigots. No one in the LGBTQ community is under any illusion about the feelings of the KKK toward them, however. As the SPLC points out, the Klan hates gay people only slightly less than they hate Jews, African Americans, and “mongrel races.” As one blog commentator wrote, “On the one hand, this could be laughable, but it is not. One could also [take this news] with a grain of salt. Neither side are LGBT friendly. Let them fight among themselves.”