The LGBT press has done a good job of addressing how lesbians, gays and bisexuals were officially excluded from the White House's announcement about a new initiative to help military families. (Here's The Advocate, the Washington Bladeand MetroWeekly) The national "Joining Forces" initiative was announced at an elaborate White House ceremony Tuesday, April 12, byFirst Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden and their husbands, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. But there was nary a mention of gays during the 48-minute ceremony.
Kristina Schake, Michelle Obama's communications director, said in a statement:
All Americans should know that one act of kindness extended to a family of a soldier, a sailor, or a Marine, a Coast Guardsman, reverberates across water, over the mountains, and through the deserts, into the heart of the warrior who is standing there alone, thinking as much about his family as his family is thinking about him or her. [And that includes gay soldiers serving in silence and their families back home, too. --Karen]
Or possibly this from President Obama:
And as Commander-in-Chief, I'm not going to be satisfied until we meet these commitments. Across this administration, we're going to keep doing everything in our power to give our military families the support and the respect that they deserve. [And with the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, that includes the families of lesbian and gay servicemembers, too. [--Karen]
Both Michelle Obama and Jill Biden spoke eloquently about how the children of servicemembers must cope with their parent's deployment and the stress of the spouse at home. Well, the "silent partner" of an LGBT servicemember spoke just as eloquently about that, too (emphasis added):
Our military families have invisibly navigated their daily lives through the unique challenge of serving this country under the "don't ask don't tell" policy and our families will continue to be invisible to the Military Families Initiative.
Our children will be in the classrooms that Mrs. Obama visits - though she just won't know it because our children are conditioned not to tell. Our Soldiers will be on the bases she visits, but she won't seek them out. Our families will be outside the front gate, but no one will invite us in.
Does this exclusion - this official and conscious invisibility - matter as anything more than just a political consideration?
Last June, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife Deborah toured various university campuses to hold town hall-style meetings asking local communities to do exactly what the White House has now made an official project. When Mullen was at USC, I asked him specifically about how the Pentagon was dealing with gay servicemembers who had the added pressure of serving in silence under DADT and did he not think that that pressure alone contributed to PTSD. He hadn't thought about it, but promised he would. GetEqual was there and pressed the question, too. Admiral Mullen and Deborah Mullen were in the audience Tuesday for the Joint Forces announcement so there is no excuse for the White House to have not known about this issue.
But there are real life consequences, too, which are never recorded because no one officially asks about sexual orientation, let alone gender identity.
Consider this: on Dec. 23, 2010, Home Post, a podcast that focuses on military life and military families in San Diego, delivered some "good holiday news":
"November was the first month since 2007 in which the Marine Corps didn't have a reported suicide. Last year, 52 Marines took their own life, marking the highest rate in Marine Corps history, according to Cpl. Monty Burton, who reports for Dvidshub that suicide claimed the lives of 35 Marines in 2010, and that the Marine Corps is fighting this enemy head on.
Meghan K. Jones, director of Camp Pendleton's Marine Corps Family Team, told Burton the Marine Corps is working to do away with the negative stigma surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. And Marines are taking care of Marines by utilizing such resources as the new DSTRESS hotline. Marines and their families can call this hotline 24 hours a day at 877-476-7734 or visit www.dstressline.com.....
"DSTRESS can help in the fight against stress, depression and suicide. The service is open to all active duty, retired, reserve and former Marines, as well as their family members and loved ones. This is a line manned by Marines for Marines. It's completely anonymous, and somebody always answers. The Marine Corps will never accept even just one suicide."
Except - under DADT - even children may not feel they call that hotline and tell the truth and ask for help.
It is hard to imagine that any doctor or psychologist - or compassionate person - would not realize that serving in silence on top of all the other stresses and pain of military duty contributes significantly to a gay servicemember or his or her family suffering PTSD. And surely a compassionate person must suspect that at least some of those high military suicide rates are among LGBT servicemembers. Consider, for instance, that Home Post notes that the suicide rate in the Marines significantly declined at the end of last year. Is it only a coincidence that the repeal of DADT was passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama last December - signaling hope for gays waiting for the freedom to speak the truth about who they are?
This Fox News report tells the story of an honored, wounded Marine with PTSD who tried hard to fight his suicidal feelings and lost. Now imagine that this Marine was gay.
img: President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden acknowledge Dr. Jill Biden during the launch of the Joining Forces initiative to support and honor America's service members and their families, in the East Room of the White House. Official White House photo.