Officers’ Wives Club Excludes Lesbian Army Wife
The legally married same-sex spouse of an active duty Army lieutenant colonel has alleged discrimination for rejection in joining a social support organization for the spouses of officers. Ashley Broadway, spouse to Lt. Col. Heather Mack, has been denied entry to the Association of Fort Bragg Officers’ Spouses, with a Dec. 20 meeting bringing no resolution.
Advocates at the American Military Partner Association and the OutServe-SLDN (formerly Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) have vowed to put pressure on the leadership and the Pentagon to enact consistent rules across the military.
"I think there are two things that are important for Ashley," OutServe-SLDN’s Zeke Stokes told EDGE. "First is, she wants to be rightfully included in the spouses group, just as any other military spouse would be. They are legally married in state where they can be, and according to the existing bylaws, she fits every category of the rules. And second, she doesn’t want any other servicemembers’ families to have to experience what she’s had to experience with this group -- not at Fort Bragg, or anywhere across the country."
The Association of Fort Bragg Officers’ Spouses is a private, not-for-profit group over which the military does not have command authority. However, the commanding general at Fort Bragg must approve its annual bylaws and give the group permission to operate on the base.
The association initially told Ashley that she "did not qualify" for membership in the group because she does not have a military ID card, currently only available to opposite-sex spouses. But that requirement was not listed in the group’s bylaws.
"Ashley has been denied membership to the spouses’ group, and they are currently blaming this on her lack of a dependent ID card, which they know she cannot get as a same-sex spouse," AMPA’s Lauren Lamoly told EDGE. "As you are probably aware, the Fort Bragg Association of Officer’s Spouses did not make this ID card a requirement of membership until Ashley applied."
Broadway and Mack have been together for more than 15 years. "For 13-plus of those years, Ashley was a dedicated, but invisible, partner," AMPA’s Lauren Lamoly said. "She was the ’roommate,’ the ’friend’ and the last to know if anything were to happen to Heather while she served our country."
Once OutServe-SLDN and AMPA became involved, the situation began to garner media attention. The association said in a statement that it had finally agreed to review its policy "in response to recent interest in the membership requirements of our organization.
"This will be our first opportunity for our board to discuss the issue since it has been brought to our attention. We intend to review the request in a timely manner," the Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses Dec. 8 statement added.
Soon after, AMPA and OutServe-SLDN released a statement announcing that the Fort Bragg Garrison Commander Colonel Jeffrey Sanborn would meet with Broadway on Dec. 20 to address the discrimination.
"By agreeing to this meeting, the post leadership is affirming that, indeed, it does have a role to play when a family in its community is treated unfairly by a group that holds itself out as representative of all military families," read the statement. "Ashley looks forward to discussing not only the challenges her family has faced, but those faced by other same-sex military families in the Fort Bragg community. We continue to urge Colonel Sanborn and Commanding General Daniel Allyn to use their considerable influence to remedy this situation for Ashley and pave the way for all military families at Fort Bragg to be treated with fairness, dignity, and equity."
EDGE spoke with Stokes and Lamoly on the morning after the Dec. 20 meeting. Both expressed anger with the lack of a firm resolution.
For Stokes, the only positive outcome of the meeting was that the garrison commander offered to set up yet another meeting, this one between Broadway and the members of the spouses’ group. The commander also vowed to let Broadway share with base leadership some of the challenges common to all LGBT military families, not only at Fort Bragg, but across the country.
"The bottom line is, they should have had a solution to this when Ashley walked in the door yesterday," said Stokes. "The leadership says he can’t force the group to do anything, but the commander general has a tremendous influence, and if they wanted to, they could have solved this already."
Broadway "clearly qualifies," Stokes added. The commanding general should, Stokes said, "pick up the phone and tell them that he is uncomfortable for his military families to be treated unequally; there is no need for another meeting."
OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson called the meeting "yet another delay tactic" by the Fort Bragg command, and demanded that Allyn resolve the situation.
"Our families don’t need more meetings; they need leadership," said Robinson. "We need Lieutenant General Daniel Allyn, the commanding general at Fort Bragg, to use his command influence to bring this discrimination to an end immediately and ensure that Ashley and other same-sex spouses are treated equally in his community."
Robinson renewed her call for the Pentagon to end its two years of silence on issues affecting LGBT military families, including benefits that may be extended to them immediately by the Department of Defense without conflicting with the Defense of Marriage Act. OutServe-SLDN has enumerated these benefits to the Secretary to Defense through a series of communications since January 2011.
"This situation at Fort Bragg is the logical outcome of an abdication of leadership responsibility by the most senior officials at the Pentagon," said Robinson. "It must end now -- not only for Ashley Broadway and her family, but for all gay and lesbian military families who put their lives on the line for our nation every single day."