Showing posts with label Gay Soldiers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Soldiers. Show all posts

June 1, 2016

Ukraine exHero Soldier is Gay and was Openly Out While in Service



                                                                          Ex-soldier Oleh Kopko talks about his service in the army and his experience of hiding his sexuality from his comrades on Jan. 22.
Ex-soldier Oleh Kopko speaks with the Kyiv Post on Jan. 22. (Pavlo Podufalov) 



Ukrainian Oleh Kopko, 31, was summoned to war in August 2014 and spent a year fighting against the Russian-separatist forces in an artillery battalion in eastern Ukraine.

Kopko has been in some of the hottest spots of the conflict: He’s been to Debaltsevo, Illovaisk and at the Russian border. He has the warmest memories of his comrades, who were “a real brotherhood.”

His commanders even invited him to rejoin the army as a professional soldier. But Kopko doubts that the invitation will still stand after this story is published.

That’s because Kopko is gay.

He wasn’t open about his sexuality while serving in the army (“For obvious reasons,” he says), but decided it would be right to open up about it now.

When Kopko was summoned to war, he was living with his boyfriend of 6.5 years in Zaporizhzhya. When he went to war, the couple broke up. The service was one of the reasons.

Tough service

Kopko says he never considered dodging the conscript, although he knew that Ukraine’s army was a mess. He got a proof of it very soon: When he and other fresh troops arrived to a training base near Dnipropetrovsk, they weren’t fed for 24 hours.

After some 1.5 months at the training center, the conscripts were sent to the frontline – first, to protect the border near Luhansk, then to Artemovsk.

Kopko served in the artillery and says he has never been in a close fight and rarely even saw his target. It didn’t make it safer, though.

“Near Debaltsevo and Starobeshevo we were shelled 10 to 15 times a day,” Kopko recalls.

Ex-soldier Oleh Kopko talks about his service in the army and his experience of hiding his sexuality from his comrades on Jan. 22.

Ex-soldier Oleh Kopko speaks with the Kyiv Post on Jan. 22. (Pavlo Podufalov) 

The soldier says a lot of strange things were happening at war.

“Sometimes we would be sent to a fire position and then be ordered to leave without shooting and without an explanation. Or we were ordered to leave a base suddenly, and minutes after that the base was shelled,” Kopko recalls. “There were a lot of things that I couldn’t explain.”

Even though artillery mostly works in the rear, Kopko says they experienced the horror of the war to the full extent. He saw the death of two of his comrades during the shelling and feared for his life in Ilovaisk.

“There was one day when we were constantly shelled and were waiting for the order of some kind, but no order would come. This indefinite waiting was the most horrible thing to me,” he recalls.

Despite all of that he says he never regretted the decision to serve his country.

“Even when you are on a leave you feel like you should come back to war as soon as possible, because your friends are there and you need to be with them,” he says.

Sexuality at front line

Kopko didn’t tell his fellow soldiers that he was gay. He didn’t say that he was straight, either. The man says his homosexuality wasn’t an issue, because “there were a lot of other things to worry about at war.”

And war psychologist Olena Batyrskaya agrees.

“There is no homophobia in the army, simply because there is no sex life in the army,” she says. “Be youheterosexual or homosexual, private life is not a matter for discussion thereat all. There, it is all about war.”

Batyrskaya is a war psychologist at Psychology Crisis Center and has been working with Ukrainian soldiers for two years now. She says that she hasn’t heard of any scandals regarding sexuality in all this time.

But in Ukraine’s peaceful life, the homophobia outbursts are frequent. In March, the right-wing radicals dispensed a human rights forum in Lviv just because the gay rights were on the agenda, and tried to do the same to a similar event in Kyiv in March.

In 2015, anti-gay activists threw petards into the participants of a gay march in Kyiv, wounding several police officers. Representatives of the Right Sector radical group threatened to repeat the attack at this year’s gay pride on June 11.

Danyl–ĺ Blinov, a Ukrainian serviceman, has never met Kopko or any other gay soldier at the war front and is surprised to be asked about his attitude to homosexual soldiers.

“If a gay is a good soldier then let him serve. What is worse: gay or an alcoholic?” he says, adding that drinkers are the worst problem at the war front.

Batyrskaya doesn’t deny that being openly gay in the army might cause a problem.

“There are a lot of brutal men who don’t have enough knowledge about the matter. And if you come and say: ‘Hey, I am your company commander, guys, and I’m gay!’ - believe me, that company won’t be very effective,” she says.

Kopko agrees that the main problem with homophobia in Ukraine is the lack of knowledge and says that it is probably better not to talk about one’s homosexuality in the army.

“Soldiers are just the same as everyone else, and there are gays among them,” he says with a smile.

Kopko says that Hornet, a popular smartphone application for dating, is just as popular among soldiers as anywhere else. The app shows all the people nearby with an active search status. Kopko used it during his service – without mentioning to his fellow soldiers that he was looking for same-sex matches.

He says that he even got date invitations from Russian soldiers deployed in the area nearby. He declined them.


Editor’s Note: This article is a part of the “Journalism of Tolerance” project by the Kyiv Post and its affiliated non-profit organization, the Media Development Foundation. The project covers challenges faced by sexual, ethnic andother minorities in Ukraine, as well as people with physical disabilities andthose living in poverty. This project is made possible by the support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development and Internews. Content is independent of the donors.

April 25, 2016

Australia Honors The Gay Anzacs Who Refused to be Silent


 Gay ex-serviceman Max Campbell poses at 2015 Anzac celebrations
Image copyrightDEFGLIS
Image captionMax Campbell (pictured centre left) was not allowed to lay a wreath on behalf of gay ex-servicemen in 1982
Stuart Martin looks back with pride on his six years as a nursing officer in the Royal Australian Air Force. But he also recalls having to "not be gay". And one incident from that era sticks in his mind: a veterans' leader physically blocking a group of gay ex-servicemen trying to lay a wreath during an Anzac Day service.
It was 1982, and the man obstructing them was the notoriously bellicose Bruce Ruxton, long-time president of Victoria's Returned and Services League. On Monday, as Australians remember their war dead at Anzac Day ceremonies, Mr Martin - health permitting - will be among current and former military personnel placing a rainbow wreath at that same shrine in Melbourne.
The service and sacrifice of gay and transgender members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) will be similarly honoured at ceremonies in Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide, Brisbane and Townsville - thanks largely to Mr Martin, who decided last year that it was time to "address an injustice" and "acknowledge all those who have gone before us".
That the ADF has given its blessing to this new Anzac Day tradition is testament to how much things have changed since Mr Martin's day, when military police would "hang about gay nightclubs looking for people with very short haircuts and take pictures of them to compare with the military files," he recalls.
 Back then, as elsewhere, gay people were still barred from joining the armed forces. 
Mr Martin says: "I was prepared to be quiet about it, but there was always that worry at the back of your mind, and many people I knew had a terrible time. Military police were doing a lot of undercover work rooting out gay people and with the emergence of HIV/Aids the witch hunts intensified. That was the climate at that time."
Those who were outed were given the choice of receiving a dishonourable discharge or resigning, according to Dr Noah Riseman, an Australian Catholic University historian researching marginalised groups in the military. Most chose the latter and from then on were unable to march with their units in Anzac Day parades. 

'Stand up, be visible'

Max Campbell, who was in the Air Force for 20 years and subsequently formed the Gay Ex-Services Association (GESA), led the 1982 attempt to lay a wreath, along with a card stating: "For all our brothers and sisters who died during the wars." 
Mr Ruxton accused him and his comrades of "denigrating" Anzac Day, declaring: "I don't mind poofters in the march, but they must march with their units... We didn't want anything to do with them."
Last year, on the centenary of Australian troops landing at Gallipoli, and on "one of the best days of my life", as he called it, 71-year-old Mr Campbell proudly placed a rainbow wreath at Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance. Accompanying him was Mr Martin, who had instigated the push for gay personnel to be included in Anzac Day ceremonies.
Stuart Martin (left) and Daniel Theophanou were both gay servicemen in Australia's militaryImage copyrightDEFGLIS
Image captionStuart Martin (left) pushed for the recognition of LGBTI servicemen and women during Australia's Anzac remembrances
The Victorian coordinator for a group that succeeded GESA, the Defence Gay and Lesbian Information Service (DEFGLIS), Mr Martin says: "It's about righting a wrong for all those people who served silently, and saying to all those veterans out there that you can finally stand up and be visible and play your part in Anzac Day.
"It's also about raising awareness that there's a history of LGBTI service in the ADF and of people sacrificing their lives. We existed then, we exist now, and we no longer need to hide."
Although the ban on gay servicemen and women was lifted in 1992, the ADF's culture has changed only gradually. It was not until 2005 that family benefits were extended to same-sex partners, while a prohibition on transgender people in the military was abolished only in 2010. 
Now the Defence Force actively targets gay recruits, and high-ranking members such as Air Vice Marshal Tracy Smart and Group Captain Cate McGregor, the world's most senior transgender military officer, enjoy a high profile. 
At last month's Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 140 Army, Air Force and Navy personnel marched in uniform. In September, DEFGLIS will organise its second Military Pride Ball.
There have been bumps along the way. In 2011, for instance, Jim Wallace, a former SAS commander and head of the Australian Christian Lobby, caused outrage with an Anzac Day tweet expressing hope that "as we remember servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for - wasn't gay marriage and Islamic!"
Pockets of homophobia persist within the military itself - as Dr Riseman notes, the institution is bound to reflect the spectrum of opinion in civilian society. 
However, gay people can now "serve openly and without fear", says former Army officer and DEFGLIS secretary James Montague Smith, paying tribute to the courage and hard work of Mr Campbell and his comrades.

February 20, 2016

Two Soldiers Find Love in Iraq then Loose it but they find a way




Betu Allami (left) and Nayyef Hrebid (right) met in 2004, during the seige of Ramadi. Hrebid was a translator with the U.S. Marines, and Allami was an Iraqi soldier.
                          Betu Allami (left) and Nayyef Herebid (right)  met in 2004 during the Iraq war but took a decade to find a home
 
 

KUOW PHOTO/ISOLDE RAFTERY
This is a story about love and war; love lost and love found again.
In 2004, Nayyef Hrebid was an interpreter for the U.S. Marines in Iraq, and Betu Allami was a soldier with the Iraqi Army.
Ramadi General Hospital had been taken over by insurgents, and Hrebid and Allami were part of a mission to reclaim the hospital. It was a dangerous mission, in a dangerous city, at a dangerous time in the war. 
At night, after the stress of the day was over, the two men would come together in a safe house to recover. They would eat a meal, then sit in the back garden and talk for hours.
Hrebid said those conversations helped keep him sane during a difficult time. 
"Because, you know, we see dead people. We fight. So what we talk about is our life and past, about how we feel, about where we like to be in the future," Hrebid said. "And that was very beautiful in that difficult moment." 
Neither were openly gay, but they knew they had feelings for each other. After just four days, Allami told Hrebid, "I love you." In response, Hrebid kissed him. Allami said he was so excited, he didn't eat for two days.
But this was Iraq, and being gay was not OK. If they were caught, they could go to jail for 15 years, or worse.
"To be gay in Iraq, it's very dangerous," Hrebid said. "It's losing your life. You get shame to the family. You lose your family, and you lose your friends, you lose everything almost. That is why there is other ways to be gay, just between you and maybe the other person."
For nearly five years, Hrebid and Allami kept their love a secret. Sometimes, friends would help to arrange rendezvous. But they could not love in the open. Then, in 2009, Hrebid's life became dangerous for another reason. He was targeted by militants for his work as a translator.
"They start writing our names in the street; I cannot meet my family any more, and all my neighborhood knew I work with the Americans, so they call me traitor," he said.
With the help of a U.S. Marine captain, Hrebid was granted asylum and came to live in the United States. He settled in Seattle in 2009. But he had to leave Allami in Iraq.
Allami said he was happy to know that Hrebid was safe and could finally live life as an out gay man. "But me, I live in Iraq. Is now just me, and so difficult," Allami said.
"I was feeling very guilty to leave him behind," Hrebid said.  
The two stayed in constant contact, by phone or Skype or other means. Hrebid spent years trying to find a way to bring Allami to live with him in Seattle.
Because of Allami's military history, it was difficult to get permission for him to enter the U.S. Meanwhile, his life had also become dangerous. A relative had discovered that Allami was gay, and Allami feared for his life.
With the help of friends, Hrebid got Allami to safety in Beiruit, Lebanon. Then Hrebid found a way to get Allami to Vancouver, Canada, where Hrebid could come visit him.
They lived across the border from each other and saw each other every week. They married in a small ceremony in Canada on Valentine’s Day, 2014.

                                                               
Finally, in early 2015, the couple got an appointment with U.S. Immigration. Hrebid clearly remembers the day.
"That day was one of my biggest days, ever. We went there and I had a bunch of paper, photos and letters to prove our relationship. And the interview was only 10 minutes. She asked specific questions about how we met, how long we've been together, and how we connect with each other. After that she said, 'You've been approved for a visa to live in the United States,'" Hrebid said.
He was shocked and began to cry and scream immediately. "I lost myself. I really lost myself because this finally is happening. We could live together," he said. "I want to wake up to up see him in front me. And when I close my eyes, he's the last face I see."
The two were married on the Olympic Peninsula in August 2015 in what they call their "dream wedding." They now live on Capitol Hill in Seattle. After more than a decade living apart, they are grateful to — at long last — be able to share a roof and a bed.
"We have home," says Allami, "apartment, but ..." 
Hrebid jumps in. “It is like a palace, to us."
 
http://kuow.org/

November 21, 2015

Turkish Military Stops Degrading Gay Test for New Recruits


                                                                   


Gay military recruits were previously forced into degrading tests to prove that they were gay.

In Turkey, homosexuals are are exempt from serving in the army, which is compulsory for men aged between 20 and 41. In order to prove their exemption, gay men were being forced into rectal examinations, and even made to photograph themselves having sex.
Turkey’s Armed Forces Physical Capabilities Regulation code classifies homosexuality as a ‘psychosexual disorder’, and states that those whose ‘sexual manners and behavior cause or are expected to cause problems of adaptation and functionality in a military environment’ should be excluded from service.
The Turkish Armed Forces have now relaxed this policy, meaning that these humiliating methods will no longer be enforced. Being exempt from the Turkish military does mean having your sexual orientation listed on your official record, which could then lead to further discrimination.
Any gay recruit who does want to serve in the military is able to, as long as they don’t disclose their sexual orientation, but if it is discovered or disclosed at a later time they risk expulsion. A man known only as Ahmet told Al-Monitor: “Being gay in Turkey is difficult, but for a gay of draft age, these difficulties become a hell.
“The medical examination [to determine fitness] for military service is perhaps the first challenge in your life that forces you to make a choice between your gay identity and social realities.”
Words Danielle Hutley

February 3, 2014

Hawaii Democrat Introduces Bill to Help Gay Vets



 
A Hawaii Democrat introduced on Thursday new legislation in the U.S. Senate that would ensure gay veterans discharged because of their sexual orientation have the designation of “honorable” discharge on their records.
The bill, known as the Restore Honor to Service Members Act, would apply to gay veterans who were in service prior to the lifting of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011, when the U.S. military expelled troops for being openly gay.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the chief sponsor, said “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was “a watershed moment,” but his bill would address remaining issues for the estimated 114,000 service members expelled because of their sexual orientation since World War II.
“Yet thousands of former service members still bear the scars of that discrimination, with their military records tarnished with discharges other than honorable and marks on their records that compromise their right to privacy,” Schatz said. “Many of these brave men and women that served our country are currently barred from benefits that they earned and are entitled to, and in the most egregious cases they are prevented from legally calling themselves a veteran. This needs to be corrected now.”
Although many service members were given an “honorable” discharge from the military if they were expelled because of their sexual orientation, others were given “other than honorable,” “general discharge” or “dishonorable” discharge.
As a consequence, these former troops may be disqualified from accessing certain benefits, such as GI bill tuition assistance and veterans’ health care, and may not be able to claim veteran status. In some cases, they may be prevented from voting or have difficulty acquiring civilian employment.
Even troops who received “honorable” discharges may have difficulties in the aftermath of their service because their sexual orientation may be identified as the reason for the discharge.
Although an administrative process already exists for service members to change their records, the proposed legislation would streamline the process to ensure these designations don’t impair former members of the armed forces.
Joining Schatz in introducing the legislation is Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who said allowing service members to change their discharges if they were expelled because of their sexual orientation demands immediate attention.
“A clean, honorable record is long overdue for veterans who were discharged solely because of who they love,” Gillibrand said. “Our veterans served our country courageously and with dignity and we must act to give them the appropriate recognition they deserve.”
The legislation has 17 co-sponsors — all Democrats. They are Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai‘i), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Gillibrand, Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Denny Meyer, national public affairs officer for the LGBT group known as American Veterans for Equal Rights, said her organization supports the bill.
“LGBT veterans who served and sacrificed in silence during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as those who served before and during ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ in the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, deserve to see their service recognized and honored at long last,” Meyer said. “We endorse and support the efforts by Senators Schatz and Gillibrand and Congressmen Pocan and Rangel to move forward the Restoring Honor to Our Service Members Act, which will accelerate discharge upgrades.”
In joint statement, gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), who are taking the lead on the legislation in the House, commended the senators for introducing the Senate companion.
“This bill would close the book on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and provide tens of thousands of gay veterans, who selflessly risked their lives for our nation,” Pocan and Rangel said. “Our bill already has the support of more than 140 House members, and we look forward to working with Senators Schatz and Gillibrand to ensure it can pass Congress and get to the President’s desk.”
Upon the introduction of the bill in July 2013, Rangel said during a conference call with Pocan he wants the White House and the Pentagon to support the legislation.
“We’re hoping we get this involved in the Department of Defense,” Rangel said at the time. “We hope, too — we haven’t talked about it, Mark — but there’s no question we’re looking to get White House support as well.”
Seven months later at the time of Senate introduction, the White House still hasn’t spoken out. The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the bill.

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