Army Lt. Colonel Heather Mack and her partner Ashley Broadway waited 15 years for the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. In September, President Obama finally drove a stake through its rotten, wormy heart. In November they married. “I was so proud to finally say, ‘We’re married.'” Ashley said. “I had to lie for so long, almost live two different lives. I could never really tell people.”
Proud of her new status as the legal wife of an officer in the U.S. Army, and taking seriously (as she always had) her role of supporting Heather, Ashley applied for membership in the Fort Bragg Officer’s Spouses Club. They turned her down. According to Think Progress, they changed their membership requirements to keep her out, requiring an ID card not available to same-sex spouses, though the club’s bylaws had no such requirement.
Ashley was stung. The more things change, the more they stay the same. So Ashley did exactly what I would have done in her place; she wrote an open letter to the President of the spouses’ group, asking her to reconsider. Ashley, however, wrote her letter in a way that would have not have come naturally to me. No snark. No sarcasm. No double entendres meant to be so subtle they’d leave the reader wondering whether or not they had been insulted. Ashley was calm and respectful, but eloquent in her cause. The tone she struck made me think of Hillary Clinton before the House Committee on Benghazi I kept waiting for the “Get a clue, you judgmental old biddy” moment that never came. I urge you to read her full letter. She had me at “As an educator, I would often tutor “Army Brats” in reading….”
Ashley’s letter was published on the American Military Partner Association’s website. Huffington Post Gay Voices picked it up, and Buzz Feed and Think Progress began following the play by play. As attention mounted, the Association of Bragg Spouses (ABOS) scrubbed their website and tried to head off further bad press by offering Ashley a special “guest membership.” She rejected the offer, calling it an insult. She is not Colonel Mack’s special guest wife.
Before long Fort Bragg’s spouses group’s petty prejudice was front and center in the national spotlight. The story became such an embarrassment that the base commander was forced to weigh in. Lt. General Daniel Allyn gave us a peek at his formidable leadership skills as he sent his spokesman, Ben Abel, into the breach with the message that the General was powerless to do the right thing and support his officer. Instead of reminding ABOS that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was in the trash compactor of history, and demanding the club either admit Lt. Colonel Mack’s wife or find themselves without a place to meet on the base, the General distinguished himself by pretending he had no power over the group. Ben Abel’s message was not that General Allyn was outraged the family of an officer under his command was treated in such a manner. Instead Abel made this statement:
“The Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses is one of the private organizations that operates on the installation because the garrison commander has determined that they do provide a service to the post through sponsor (sic) events on the post that are of benefit to the community.
“ The Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses, to the judgment that we have here at Fort Bragg, are not in violation of federal discrimination laws because federal discrimination laws don’t extend to sexual orientation,”
Before you judge the general’s lack of courage, there is a piece to the story missing from most of the news accounts that you should know. Before ABOS scrubbed their website of the names of its officers, listed as “Honorary President” of the club was Debbie Allyn, wife of our invertebrate general. Was the website changed to keep the scandal from touching the general and his wife? Or was Debbie Allyn the one doing the cleanup?
If Mrs. Allyn was indeed hands on in her “Honorary Presidency,” as one of the three Democrats who never misses Army Wives , I would have paid pay-per-view prices to have had peek into the general’s bedroom the day Ashley asked to become a member of ABOS. Did Mrs. Allyn share with her husband her plan to refuse Ashley? Is homophobia something they have in common? Is General Allyn one of those old school types, seething at the repeal of DADT and determined to phase it out as slowly and painfully as possible? Was Mrs. Allyn’s insult to Ashley Broadway her way of standing in solidarity with General Allyn’s distaste at being forced to accept gay soldiers? Maybe you have to take them on the battlefield, but we don’t have to have them in our club!
Of course it could have happened in the completely opposite manner. It is possible General Allyn had no inkling of his wife’s churlish behavior until the shit hit the fan. It is possible Mrs. Allyn scrubbed the club’s website to keep the General from discovering the breadth of her actions. Perhaps when Ashley Broadway’s story became public, the General was faced with the Sophie’s choice of backing his wife or backing his officer. I really don’t know. I only know for sure that unlike General McCrystal and General Petraeus, who stood tall when their moments of decision came, General Allyn met his challenge by scurrying back into his hidey hole squealing ”We’re following the law. We’re following the law!”
Not impressed by General Allyn’s profile in courage moment? Neither was the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Marine Corps. The Marine lawyers reasoned that if Ashley were a man, she would be admitted to ABOS. In their estimation, the Fort Bragg club was guilty of discrimination on the basis of sex, which violates Department of Defense Instruction 1000.15.
Referencing the “stir” Ashley Broadway had made, the Marine Judge Advocate General issued an “all hands” memo warning Marines against discrimination due to sexual orientation. Eric Flanagan, a spokesman for the Marines, acknowledged it was Ashley Broadway’s complaint that led to the Marines issuing their non-discrimination order. Flanagan told NBC:
“The order was pretty much using (General Allyn’s decision regarding Ashley Broadway) as an example to clarify our policy,”
“We stated that the policy is to be non-discriminatory.”
“We don’t control what (spouses) do. But they get support from the Marine Corps so that they can hold their meetings on base or at Department of Defense facilities. So, in order to do that, they do have to follow Marine Corp policies.”
“We expect that all who are interested in supporting Marine Corps family readiness would be welcome to participate and will be treated with dignity and respect.”
Yesterday, the Army backed down. ABOS offered Ashley a full membership, which she graciously accepted. Describing herself as “overjoyed,” Ashley once again distinguished herself with this conciliatory statement:
“I have further reason to take pride in the Ft. Bragg military community, knowing that we, as military spouses, are able to come together to support each other, our soldiers, and our families,”
Whether it was his own homophobia that was exposed, or his wife’s homophobia that he felt he needed to excuse, Lt General Daniel Allyn missed his opportunity to be a leader. It can’t have been a good career move for the general to announce his helplessness in the face of discrimination, on the very same day Chuck Hagel, the President’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, released a letter he wrote to Senator Boxer assuring her he would “do everything possible to the extent permissible under current law to provide equal benefits to the families of all our service members.” It will be interesting to follow the trajectory of what remains of General Allyn’s career.
Ashley Broadway wanted to change a small corner of the Army so she could support her wife. In the end, she not only won her fight for equality, she became the reason the Marines, the branch of the service that was thought most likely to resist the integration of out gay members, are now operating under a universal non-discrimination order. And incidentally, Ashley managed to accomplish this feat while potty training a 2-year-old son, Carson, and welcoming a brand new daughter. According to Ashley’s Facebook page, Heather gave birth to a beautiful little girl earlier this month.
So today we take notice of Ashley Broadway and the durable khaki square she and Heather Mack have sewn into the patchwork quilt of gay history; one loving wife, who used the power of the pen so well she “earned her stripes” as an Army spouse, and wonder of wonders, made gay acceptance the written policy of the Marine Corps.