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SAN DIEGO -- We all crave acceptance from early childhood and on throughout our adult lives. Finding that elusive acceptance can prove to be very difficult for most and impossible for others.
When you join the military, it’s assumed that this is who you are now, you’re a member of the armed forces. You use the same lingo, you have the same job worries and complaints, you are in the field together, you share jokes and you tell stories about your family and friends in your downtime.
If you’re serving in the armed forces and are LGBT, however, you don’t get to share the stories about family and friends. You get the constant pressure to live a double life; you get the burden of having to make up small lies every day to cover up who you saw a movie with over the weekend; and you get the stress of wondering if your career is over every time a superior calls you to their office.
“Leading two separate lives was difficult,” said Kristen Kavanaugh, a retired Marine officer, Naval Academy graduate, Iraq War combat veteran, and Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame inductee.
Kavanaugh clearly had the drive to succeed in the military, but the pressure to live a double life was too stressful and she chose not to re-enlist after spending nine years in the military under the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“The Marine Corps preaches integrity and honesty, going to work and lying about little things, like dinner plans and my weekend, took a physical and emotional toll on me,” Kavanaugh said.
How MAP began
Kavanaugh and a group of her fellow classmates from the CSU College of Social Work got together and decided to advocate for LGB service members for a class project.
That project grew into the Military Acceptance Project. MAP is designed to be an intermediary for LGBT military personnel and policy-makers. Much like Servicemembers United, MAP will provide crucial information to service members who otherwise would be left in the dark.
If you are LGBT in the military and have questions about anything to do with DADT or partner benefits, you have few resources to turn to without the possibility of being fired, because of your sexual orientation.
LGBT military personnel are currently trapped by DADT. They know it’s coming to an end soon, but to ask too many questions would raise eyebrows and may lead others to be suspicious.
Military leaders have their hands tied, too. They can’t single-out people who they think are LGBT and ask if they need any extra information or have any questions, because then they are “asking” someone to “tell.”
That’s where MAP comes into play.
MAP volunteers can collect anonymous information from service members on their website, figure out what people need answers to, and convey that information to policy-makers -- without anyone violating DADT in the process.
One current service member, who we’ll refer to as Kay for confidentiality purposes, said that she was trying to use the word “gay” to describe things she didn’t like, to not raise suspicions about her sexuality.
“I thought that if they heard me call something that’s negative ‘gay’ that they would assume I wasn’t because why would I choose that term if I was,” Kay said.
“I think a lot of us are suffering from latent psychological issues from being in hiding for so long,” she said.
MAP offers resources to LGBT troops
MAP has an extensive list of resources for people who are suffering from the effects of serving under DADT.
“We are addressing these issues from a social-work perspective,” Kavanaugh said. “Our biggest issue is mental health support. Everyone who is forced to hide under DADT has got some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder.”
MAP isn’t just for LGB service members, though. Straight service members are encouraged to go online and take their website’s poll, as well. MAP wants to know what every group needs, to make the transition from DADT go smoothly.
“People are afraid of what they don’t know,” said Nick Borrelli, a former Marine officer and founding member of MAP. “A lot of the policies for the armed forces won’t change drastically, there will still be no fraternization and no hazing, and an equal opportunity officer will still be in place to make sure everyone is treated the same.”
“If you’ve taken the oath and pledged your life to defend the country just like everyone else, then you should be treated just like everyone else,” Borrelli said.
MAP has a poll set up on its website that you can take anonymously. The information that you provide will help them to assess what issues need to be addressed, so they can bring those issues to policy-makers.
Photos on the left: At top is Kristen Kavanaugh, a retired Marine officer. The middle photo is the Military Acceptance Project team. At bottom is the new logo for MAP.