"Three major institutions stand in the way of LGBT equality: the military, marriage and ministry. Like a three-legged stool of prejudice, when one falls, the rest follow."Tom Carpenter, co-chair of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy
Attorney Tom Carpenter, a former Marine, has been fighting against LGBT discrimination in the U.S. Armed Forces for more than two decades.
He is the co-chair of the Forum on the Military Chaplaincy, established around 2005 and made up of 10 to 15 retired chaplains, veterans and ministers.
"We were set up because, in 1993, we found out that the largest resistance to the lifting of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' [DADT] came from military chaplains," said Carpenter. "We were being told that gay and lesbian soldiers were going to their chaplains to talk about their sexual orientation and some of the chaplains were turning them into their commanders. We wrote a white paper that led to strengthening of confidentiality within the military chaplaincy."
The Forum worked to repeal DADT using real-life stories to personalize the fightwhich was key to getting public and Congressional attentionand went up against conservative military chaplains who were backed by hate groups such as The Family Research Council.
But Carpenter, who compares DADT to post-integration's farce of "Separate But Equal," says the religious threat to separation of church and state, in the form of homophobia, sexism, and those in power using undue influence over troops, still affects current servicemembers.
Since the repeal, the Forum has been active in monitoring the chaplaincy overall, and has found that though oppression has lessened, LBT servicemembers still don't have the same protections as everyone else. "Our work just keeps increasing with the claim of 'Christian persecution' and the continued inability of many chaplains to provide for LBT servicemembers and their families," said Carpenter.
According to the U.S. Navy, a chaplain serves as a "spiritual guide and moral anchor" ( Navy.com ) and as a communicator between command and individual servicemembers. To become a chaplaina government-paid positioncandidates must obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement from their faith group, certifying that they are "qualified spiritually, morally, intellectually and emotionally to serve," and are "sensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians who work for the Army" ( GoArmy.com ). This includes being of service to those who do not have religious affiliations.
According to Wayne Hall, a representative for Army Media Relations, "When it comes to day-to-day operations, counseling, guidance, moral support, whatever soldiers need, chaplains do that in a non-denominational manner. When it comes to providing services, they are offered in line with faith groups." Basically, chaplains are expected to remain impartial in terms of general needs, but at the same time are not required to serve if they have a conflict associated with their faith group. This leaves a lot of gray area for turning faith-based ideas on and off.
"There are groups of military chaplains who have been instructed by their endorsers not to deal with LBT servicemembers or their family members; they're not even permitted to participate in any of the family support programs such as the Army Strong Bonds Program or the Navy CREDO Program," said Carpenter. Both retreat-based programs, which are designed to help military families adjust to service life, allow chaplains to refuse treatment to same-sex couples based on "religious freedom."
According to Hall, "Chaplains perform religious support activities according to their faith and conscience and provide for those of other faith groups by coordinating with another chaplain or qualified individual to perform the support needed. In the event that a chaplain cannot provide religious support activities … the chaplain will provide for the individual or family by referring and coordinating with another chaplain or qualified counselor who can perform support requested."
Although official policy, these extra steps leave some LBT servicemembers without the same services as heterosexual couples if an alternate chaplain is not prescheduled, readily available, or if the base in question is in a remote location.
And what of transgender servicemembers? According to Hall, "The simple answer is the Army does not have transgender soldiersthe Army policy regarding Transgendered individuals serving in the Army: Army Regulation ( AR ) 40-501 'Standards of Medical Fitness,' dated Dec. 14, 2007, paragraph 3-35 states '… A history of, or current manifestations of, personality disorders, disorders of impulse control not elsewhere classified, transvestism, voyeurism, other paraphilias, or factitious disorders, psychosexual conditions, transsexual, gender identity disorder to include major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex or a current attempt to change sex, hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions render an individual administratively unfit."
Eighteen countries other than the United States currently permit for transgender servicemembers. Last year, a study released by the Palm Center found that allowing for transgender servicemembers "is administratively feasible and will not be burdensome or complicated," and included detailed suggestions for implementing an immediate and successful policy change that could affect an estimated 15,500 transgender personnel ( Source: "Report of the Planning Commission on Transgender Military Service" ). There is now a new U.S. Army directive that only an Assistant Secretary of the Army can make the decision to discharge transgender soldiersan official acknowledgement and ease in policy that might signal baby steps towards inclusivity.