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Lesbian Deserter from U.S. Army Seeks Canadian Asylum

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Sep 9, 2009
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A lesbian servicemember who deserted the U.S. Army after allegedly suffering anti-gay harassment at the hands of her colleagues is seeking asylum in Canada, saying that if she is returned to the United States, she will face persecution based on her sexuality.

A Sept. 9 article in the Ottawa Citizen reported that Bethany Smith says she deserted not out of fear of being posted to Afghanistan, but because she had received threats, including a death threat, as well as unfair treatment from her superiors once it became known that she is a lesbian.

Moreover, Smith accused the Army of refusing to follow military protocol; under the stipulations of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT), which bans service by open gays and lesbians, once a GLBT servicemember’s true sexual orientation is known, he or she is supposed to be discharged.

That didn’t happen in Smith’s case, her lawyer, Jamie Liew, says, because America’s all-volunteer military is so hard-pressed for personnel.

Instead of being discharged under DADT, Smith contends, she was forced to continue her service in a hostile environment.

Smith now goes by the name Skyler James, the article says, and works in an Ottawa call center. Her appeal for asylum was initially submitted to the immigration and Refugee Board, but was rejected; Smith then took her case to Canada’s Federal Court.

Smith based her appeal on the claim that if she is returned to America, she will face military discipline that will be tougher in her case due to her sexual orientation.

The article said that Smith was outed as a lesbian after she was seen holding hands with another woman in public.

After that, Smith claimed, her workload increased and she began to receive threatening notes, including a threat on her life.

Candian news service CBC quoted Smith in a Sept. 8 item as telling the media, "I had to endure not only verbal and physical harassment, but death threats and harassment letters on my door every day."

Smith also claimed that her treatment at the hands of her fellow soldiers was "less than human," including frequent physical assaults from a male colleague while others looked on. Said Smith, "There were sergeants standing around laughing with him."

Smith also said that she would face a tribunal composed of the same people with whom she had served and from whom she was ostensibly fleeing in fear for her life when she went to Canada.

"The same people who are causing you problems" would be the ones deciding her fate, Smith said.

Smith had been posted to Fort Campbell, the Kentucky base where gay servicemember Barry Winchell was beaten to death with a baseball bat by another soldier in 1999. Calvin Glover was convicted of the killing and sentenced to life in prison.

The Ottawa Citizen article included a quote from Smith in which she said, "I asked for a discharge and they said we’ll figure out the paperwork after I got back" from Afghanistan, where she was to be sent for a tour of duty.

Said Smith, "I was scared more of people who were supposed to be watching my back than the insurgents."

The article also quoted Brian Harvey, a Federal attorney, who denied that there was reason to think that Smith would be subjected to harsher disciplinary action due to her sexuality.

Said Harvey, "There’s no evidence that she faces tougher sentencing treatment because of her sexual orientation."

The usual punishment for desertion in America, according to an earlier ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal, is a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. military.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Comments

  • Anonymous, 2009-09-10 12:32:53

    this is america gay, straight or bisexual these men and women are giving their life for a country that doesnt except them...get real and realize that sexuality shouldn’t be an issue when it comes to serving your counrty. They expect people to want to join and fight for a country that is biased? Poppycock!!!


  • Anonymous, 2009-09-15 12:08:46

    Good point. But If she new the policy going into the military then she dosen’t have an argument. Rules are rules.


  • Anonymous, 2009-09-15 22:11:34

    I joined the US Army at 17 with my Mom’s permission. I had no idea I was a lesbian at the time. I was 17 and still figuring out how to survive, let alone dealing with my sexuality. When they asked at MEPS if I had ever had gay sex or thought about it, I honestly answered no. Three years later, I finally came out. Coincidentally, that was the same year DADT became law. I chose on my own to leave the Army that winter. Being a soldier is supposed to be about Duty, Honor, and Country, and there is no honor in forcing someone to live their life a lie. Think about the age of people being recruited by our Armed Forces. Most are 16 and 17 year old kids, still in high school. The ones who figure it out early are lucky, they know better than to get involved with a recruiter. But to a poor kid who needs to get out of a bad situation, they’ve got no idea. All that said, this woman should not have gone AWOL. She should have gone to JAG at the least, and even the media if need be. I know how it is to be a scared young soldier, not sure how the system works, and getting threatened. But desertion in time of war, well, that’s a capital offense. She could be hung for that. She won’t be, but by running away she gave the tormentors in the Army exactly what they wanted. Her head on a plate for their own justice.


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