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Beyond Park East Part II: LGBT Military Service

Credit leonardmatlovich.com
Master Chief Dwayne Beebe-Franqui

In part two of “Beyond Park East,” the spotlight is on the military, and how it has dealt , and is now dealing, with its LGBT members.

Gays and lesbians have served in the American military and in supporting roles dating back to the Revolutionary War. Prior to World War II, there was no written policy.

During World War II, Korea and Vietnam, the military defined homosexuality as a mental defect based on "medical criteria". Many gays and lesbians served honorably during those conflicts, but when the need for combat troops declined, they would be involuntarily discharged.

A total ban was put into place in 1982, with the claim that “homosexuality was incompatible with military service.”

“When I came out and I decided that in my private life I would live authentically as gay, it did cause me some issues where I had to hide that life from my military life,” said Dwayne Beebe-Franqui, who began his career in the Navy, now approaching 25 years, under that policy.

Now a Master Chief stationed aboard NAS Pensacola, he says keeping his secret added to the inherent stresses and challenges of military life.

“[A] tremendous amount of stress that it placed on me, [and] my partner at the time,” said Beebe-Franqui. “Being able to perform your job under that kind of constant stress that doesn’t go away. It creates a lot of issues in your mind, not being able to live up to the core values that you’re supposed to in the military.”

Shortly after taking office in 1993, President Clinton announced his intention to keep a campaign promise and eliminate military discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“The issue is not whether there should be homosexuals in the military; everyone concedes that there are,” said Clinton. “The issue is whether men and women who can and have served with real distinction should be excluded from military service, solely on the basis of their status. And I believe they should not.”

After much debate and negotiation with the Pentagon and Congress, military personnel would not be asked about their sexual orientation, and would not be discharged simply for being gay – the birth of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

That in turn, led to one of Beebe-Franqui’s biggest regrets.

“At the time I was raising my two kids; I also had to teach them to not tell people about my lifestyle,” Beebe-Franqui said. “Not only did I have to deal with that, but my kids had to deal with that with other kids at school and in the neighborhood.”

Under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, more than 13,000 servicemen and women were discharged because of their sexuality.

Credit hrw.org
President Barack Obama signing repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in December, 2010

Fast-forward now, to December of 2010. The House and Senate voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. President Obama then signed it into law later that same month. 

“This line I’m about to sign will strengthen our national security; and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risked their lives to defend,” said Obama.

“I think that the moment that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell ended, was one of the most wonderful moments of my whole, entire life, to tell you the truth,” said Beebee-Franqui.

Following the Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, the Department of Defense announced it would extend the same spousal and family benefits for same-sex marriages that, traditional marriages enjoy. 

Another frontier was crossed last July, when the ban on service by openly transgender persons in the military was repealed.

Now that gays and lesbians can serve openly without fear of retribution, Beebee-Franqui says that can only make the military stronger.

“There’s going to be great success of those LGBT members that can now be themselves, and when they come to work only concentrate on the mission,” said Beebe-Franqui. “It strengthens the military, and creates an environment of success for all people – not just LGBT. But, there’s this secrecy that’s gone.”

Master Chief Dwayne Beebe-Franqui says the high-quality work being performed by LGBTs in the military is beginning to change the hearts and minds of many who first opposed their presence in uniform. For them it’s no longer gays, lesbians, and bisexuals – it’s now soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marine.

In part three, we look at what the Supreme Court hath joined together – marriage equality.