Donna Pandori

Major Networks Fail Gay Service Members

Filed By Donna Pandori | June 19, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media, Politics

Major media networks frequently honor our military service members by providing news about the sacrifices they are making to keep us safe at home. Sadly, the news stops short when it comes to the additional human sacrifices made by gay service members - human sacrifices heterosexual service members don't have to deal with.

Consider this Associated Press piece posted over at MSNBC:

Army couple finally reunited in Baghdad

Married American captains have spent only two of five years together. They still feel like newlyweds, five years into their marriage. A lucky couple?

No, Nathan and Jennifer Williams just haven't seen much of each other.

The two young Americans, both Army captains, have each been deployed twice to Iraq on 12-month tours -- but in different locations. Back home, they spent at least another year apart because of training commitments.

The Williamses are among thousands of military couples whose lives have been disrupted by multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Starting a family has been put on hold. And time alone together, when it comes, is precious.

There's an abundance of stories similar to Nathan and Jennifer Williams being told by major media networks. Imagine now that these were two same-sex service members; you wouldn't be reading that story for sure.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network provides a deeper look at what gay service members are up against with "LGBT Service Members Building a Family"

Creating significant intimate relationships and building families raises many risks for gay service members. Despite the risks, thousands of gay service members choose to accept and live with those risks every day. Here is partial list of some, but not all, of the risks faced by gay service members with families:

1. Records of Commitment and Marriage - Any public or legal affirmation of a same-sex relationship is grounds for discharge. Public records of marriages, civil unions and domestic partnerships, can be grounds for discharge under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" if the military finds out.

2. Adoption - All service members are required to notify the military of any legal dependents they have, including children, and of any changes in dependent status or risk criminal prosecution. For example, an adoption certificate listing the names of two people of the same sex as co-parents of a child could be grounds for investigation and discharge under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

3. Pregnancy - A female service member choosing to have children outside of an opposite-sex relationship or marriage may be perceived as lesbian by the military. If the service member does have a same-sex partner, she should be cautious about having her partner involved with the military health care concerning her pregnancy.

4. Family Care Plans - All service members with children are required to maintain a Family Care Plan explaining how their children will be cared for if the service member is deployed, injured or dies. While service members are free to choose anyone as the designated guardian, commands may become suspicious if that person is someone of the same sex who is not a family member.

5. Emergency Situations - A service member's same-sex partner cannot be listed as a primary next of kin (PNOK) on the emergency data sheet, but service members can list anyone they choose as a person to be notified in an emergency as an "interested person." However, listing someone of the same-sex as an interested person may raise suspicion by the command about the service member's sexuality.

6. Insurance Beneficiaries - The only military benefit that active duty service members can provide to their same-sex partners is to name them as a beneficiary of their Servicemember's Group Life Insurance. If service members are questioned about why they are listing a non-relative of the same sex as a beneficiary, they should not explain the nature of the relationship and they don't have to.

7. Breaking Up - Ending a relationship can raise significant risks to the careers of gay service members. SLDN has seen former partners threaten to try to damage service members' careers after break-ups. Relationships involving children and/or large assets like jointly owned property, may require civilian court proceedings such as divorce and custody hearings to resolve those issues.

And that's just the tip of the iceburg. Imagine having to always guard what you say to your spouse on the phone and through email. Imagine not being able to share the joyous news openly about the birth of your child. Imagine not being able to display a picture of your family on your desk. And on and on.

So, getting back to Nathan and Jennifer Williams dilemma:

Married American captains have spent only two of five years together. They still feel like newlyweds, five years into their marriage. A lucky couple?

No, Nathan and Jennifer Williams just haven't seen much of each other.

Nathan and Jennifer Williams thank you for your sacrifice and service to our country. However, "not seeing much of each other" pales in comparison to the additional heavy burdens gay service members face every day. If Gay service members can serve honorably and are good enough to lay down their lives for our country then they deserve to be treated equally like their heterosexual commrads.

So major networks I say shame on you. Start reporting the gay service members side of the story and we'll have Don't Ask Don't Tell repealed in no time. For now you get a big fat F. Perhaps you should read this post and then tune into the PBS documentary, Ask Not, for some lessons on how to cover DADT fairly.

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