Abortion issue of On The Issues Magazine; Winter 2012
What's next for women's autonomy? To mark four decades of women exercising the right to abortion, our contributors share ideas & actions in On The Issues Magazine Winter 2012.
   
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Student Think Tank

On The Issues Magazine publishes papers by students that respond to articles and topics in our magazine. This writing, excerpted from a student paper submitted by Kristine Kordell, responds to our online edition, Women War and Peace, including "Paradoxes of Women in Uniform Take Deep Listening" by Chris Lombardi and "Fighting to Fight: Questioning the Battle of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'" by Gabrielle Korn.

Kordell wrote this paper for a Women's History class taken online from the University of Maryland University College. "I chose this topic because it was very relevant to my life experiences and helped to make sense of the Army's current situation and policies on homosexual soldiers," said Kordell.

Student papers and excerpts of 1,500 words or less may be considered for republication in On The Issues Magazine. Submit to managingeditor@ontheissuesmagazine.com.

 

- By The Editors

Time to Recognize Lesbian Service in U.S. Military by Kristine Kordell

In response to Women, War and Peace, Summer 2011, On the Issues Magazine.

In the 21st century, lesbians in the military are so close to a victory of equality, that to appreciate it fully, one must take a critical look at the history of their resiliency.

In 1940 Mary McLeod Bethune documented in "Challenges for Health and Welfare of Women's Army Corps" how the 5th Army Women's Auxiliary Army Corps deployed overseas to places as far off as Africa and the Mediterranean and worked as telephone operators in mobile switchboard trailers, along with other occupational specialties. However, their working conditions were identical to those of the men. They wore enlisted men's uniforms, slept in the same style (and sex-segregated) pyramid shaped tents and for months on end had no privacy. Outside of the ranks, the public response to the entire female involvement in the Army was initially one of distrust. Lesbians were already looked down upon based on their gender; their alternative sexual orientation was extremely taboo and best left unmentioned or else they risked undesirable repercussions.

The director of the Women's Army Corps, Colonel Oveta Hobby, assured America by publicizing letters of support from local religious leaders. She also released statements, emphasizing that female soldiers led by example with classic Victorian virtues of chastity, purity and respect. Col. Hobby stated that comradeship among women in civic duties, as well as the armed services, was quite similar to that which men traditionally enjoyed.

The Army's official historical account of lesbians in World War II is very brief, taking up one sentence in the "Health and Medical" chapter. Under the heading "Mental and Psychological," the Army explained perceptions of "maladjusted" versus well-adjusted females. It said, "records of neurotic and psychotic traits and treatments were not kept or at least collect[ed] for making of [the] report except for one exception – the brief investigations about homosexuality." Needless to say, the military viewed lesbianism as an afterthought in the big picture of WWII. Unfortunately, certain oppressive voices within the public spectrum were loud enough to result in purges of lesbians.

McCarthy Chases Up Lavender Scare

In 1948 the Women's Army Corps was integrated as a Corps of the Regular Army. No longer a separate institution, it trained in arms, preparing for the Cold War against Communism. Two years later, the Korean War began, and even though these women actively participated in support of both campaigns, Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy gave a poisonous speech on February 9, 1950, warning of lesbians working within State Department, and accusing them, without proof, of being affiliated with Communism.

Douglas M. Charles's entry to the Journal of Sexuality titled "From Subversion to Obscenity" recalls how revamped public anxieties prompted the House Committee on Un-American Activities to intensify its investigations and prosecutions of lesbians in the government. Often times these involved disgraceful entrapment by police forces, regardless of whether the individuals targeted were, in fact, gay. Witch hunts and blacklists were to combat the "Red Scare," but with the addition of homosexuals, the investigations also became known as the "Lavender Scare."

Subsequently, the very next year, in 1951, the Uniform Code of Military Conduct was established as a legal system separate from civilian sectors and reserved only for the "higher disciplined" and standardized Army. Within its articles, it claimed homosexuals were mentally and sexually unfit for combat and laid clear punishment that it was grounds for dismissal. At this time, lesbian service members developed coping strategies – got married or pregnant – or relied heavily on keeping their identity secret so that they could continue to serve. Because of the cautiousness required, most women's personal experiences remained undocumented, including their accomplishments and the hardships involved with overcoming discrimination.

By the time the Korean War ended in 1953, President Eisenhower had issued Executive Order 10450, which officially banned homosexuals from holding any government job. The projected stereotype that gays and lesbians were criminals, dishonest and immoral, or even drug addicts, sadly ended the hard-earned careers of many honest and loyal Americans. Through the rest of the 1950s, religious advocates and men's and women's organizations denounced lesbianism as a travesty, using language such as "pervert," "deviant", and "abnormal."

Small Activist Strides

At about the same time, civilian activists began making small strides for gay equality. Along with gay-directed magazines and periodicals, organizations like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis advocated gay rights and attempted to change public opinion about gays and lesbians. In 1955, Daughters of Bilitis founders Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon pledged to support and help lesbians "understand themselves, and [then] go out in the world to help the public understand [them] better."

In 1978, the Women's Army Corps was disbanded and female soldiers became fully assimilated with the males into one Army. Now standing side-by-side in the ranks, men and women continued to serve well into the 1980s, but homosexuals still faced mandatory discharge policies if their commanders found out about their sexual orientation. Ten years later, in 1988, a Defense Department investigation and report "found no data to support the ban on gays in the military" and concluded that homosexuals actually posed no security risk to their units and missions.Yet, military leaders persisted in challenging the study's controversial findings.

The end of the Cold War meant that the nation could finally experience some peace, but like the end of WWII, discharges of lesbian soldiers picked up again with claims that their presence was an "unacceptable risk" to a unit's capability. President Bill Clinton's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" (DADT) policy lifted the long-standing ban on lesbians from enlistment and ended the witch-hunts and accusations. As long as they abided by all regulations and kept their lifestyle private, lesbians could have pride in themselves and their careers without fear or facing harassment. This was a great achievement for the whole lesbian community -- finally a legitimate response to their presence.

Lesbian soldiers in concealed, committed relationships could not be married, and therefore were still considered "single." This deprived them of fair economic status and exemplified how military still reflected a male-dominated system.

Changing the Picture

Civilian organizations continued to solidify gay-identity for years. Eventually, advocates began to realize the importance of including the perspective of lesbian veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005, Servicemembers United formed and joined the DADT Repeal movement.

In 2009 empirical evidence revealed how lesbian service members' "concealment" increased social isolation and work-related stress for the individuals. Thus, their decreased performance directly impacted the unit's cohesion and countered military officials' intentions. On the other hand, when lesbian soldiers felt safe enough to disclose their identity to their "battle buddies," the stress levels decreased and morale and cohesion improved greatly. Whether they chose to conceal or disclose their sexual orientation, lesbians managed to develop their own culture in the Army and found ways to identify and relate to each other. But the situation was precarious with Courts Martial and lawsuits filed by discharged soldiers.

The "Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act" was finally introduced in Congress with the support of President Barack Obama. This act served as affirmation to the Army's lesbian population. It declared the 1993 policy on homosexuality null and voice, no longer punishable under military law. Among other points, it called for a comprehensive review of the impacts and changes that needed to take place to implement the act, including revised command policy letters on sexual conduct, harassment and discrimination to be posted in company work areas and common living quarters.

However, lesbian soldiers still can only be recognized as "single," and therefore are required to live in single-soldier barracks. This will be another hurdle to overcome. Lesbians in truly committed relationships are not eligible for marriage benefits, such as co-location consideration for assignments, separation pay, housing or food allowances, or family medical, dental and life insurance.

To facilitate the changes and to educate the force, "DADT Tier III Training" is mandatory for every soldier and officer. It emphasizes leading by example, upmost professionalism, and good discipline and conduct. It also restates that sexual orientation is a personal and private matter, and any misconduct is still punishable by Uniform Code of Military Justice. The training materials are not only available to the Army, but also to all military families through Family Readiness Groups, support websites, town hall meetings or request by the public.

No longer will lesbians in the Army have to use old strategies to overcome social hardships. They no longer have to obscure their identities by establishing pseudonyms, getting married, pregnant, declining reenlistment or living in concealment, as lesbians had to do in the past. Now their strategies have evolved into managing economic setbacks and strict lifestyles, and developing personal values of quality, meaning, survival and love.

The great accomplishment of the DADT Repeal proves that a nationwide shift in the debate of public versus private lives reflects an evolution of American social thought, but is only one step in the right direction.


Kristine Kordell is "a 24-year old veteran of the Global War on Terror," as well as an art student and lesbian. The paper from which this is excerpted was for an online Women's History class at the University of Maryland, and, in its full version (8,000 words) described the regulations, policies, setbacks and achievements of lesbian soldiers in the Army from World War I to the present. Kordell is no longer on active status with the Army, but is in the Reserves and returning to school to finish her art degree. Her art can be seen in an online gallery, http://fatallyyours.deviantart.com.


Kyle Howell posted: 2012-01-15 16:10:06

As a soldier who deployed in not just the same company, but same platoon as Kristine, I am not surprised to see such a damned fine paper. She is right. Great strides have been made, but there is still a ways to go, but soldiers like Kordell are a perfect example of how sexuality, or even gender, has nothing to do with being a damned fine soldier. Good job, Battle!




Victoria posted: 2012-11-29 17:42:40

Kristine - I am so proud for you . . . and all you have and are accomplishing. I wish for you much joy and happiness. You more than deserve it.



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