The California National Guard is on the frontlines of LGBT diversity efforts
(Note: This story originally appeared on Defense Department websites in 2016).
By Will Martin
Susan Matsubara found herself faced with a document in 2001 that drove a wedge between her integrity and her desire to serve. Only weeks before the attacks on 9/11, the 18-year-old aspiring soldier was preparing to enlist in the Army National Guard. But among its requirements was the demand she sidestep reality.
“In hindsight, I’ve reconciled the decision I made to lie as one of my first experiences in the Army,” said Matsubara.
Like all recruits between February 1994 and September 2011, Matsubara was required to sign a statement of understanding regarding the Defense Department’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The now-infamous DADT directive prohibited openly gay, bisexual, and lesbian persons from serving in the military, but also barred Armed Forces leaders from arbitrarily initiating investigations into service members’ sexual orientation.
In essence, the policy presented those from the gay community, like Matsubara, with a stark choice: stay out of the military or remain deep in the closet.
“Basically, I signed a statement that was false,” said Matsubara, whose mother counseled her that the dishonest character of DADT was a far greater evil than her willingness to sign. “I ended up signing up and taking issue with how signing that statement was directly against the Army value of integrity.”
Matsubara found it distressing to navigate the DADT military. Whether awkwardly redirecting male soldiers who expressed romantic interest or masking the reality of her personal life, Matsubara served under a cloud of inauthenticity.
“As a young, junior enlisted soldier, DADT proved seriously challenging,” said Matsubara. “I could not confide in my fellow soldiers with challenges I was having in my relationships and spent lots of time concealing my identity.”
As Matsubara’s rank and experience grew, however, so did her confidence. She commissioned as a second lieutenant and began to share the truth of her sexual orientation with trusted military friends. Though such disclosure carried the risk of her being “outed,” Matsubara had concluded the only future she desired was one marked by transparency.
“Prior to the DADT repeal, I was open with close friends within my ranks and had decided that if it ever became an issue with the Army and there was an investigation, I would simply leave the Army,” said Matsubara.
The investigation never came, but a landmark decision did. On Dec. 22, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the repeal of DADT into law. The Pentagon implemented the repeal across the ranks less than a year later on Sep. 20, 2011.
“Now that DADT is repealed, I feel more included and more like I belong to the Army,” said Matsubara, “[how] I’ve always wanted to feel.”
A HISTORY OF EXCLUSION
The U.S. military’s policy of exclusion toward openly gay service members is nearly as old as the Army itself. In 1778, Gen. George Washington issued an order dismissing Lt. Gotthold Frederick Enslin from the Continental Army for “infamous crimes,” the first documented discharge of a U.S. service member for homosexuality.
Throughout most of the 20th Century, the Articles of War were repeatedly revised to include a zero-tolerance policy toward “sodomy,” which served as a catch-all term for any sexual expression outside the prevailing heterosexual norms. In 1951, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) was adopted and echoed the prohibition of “sodomy” among all service members.
There were voices of dissent, however. In 1957, Navy Capt. S.H. Crittendon chaired a committee that issued a report that questioned the belief that gay persons “posed a security risk,” a likely response to a 1953 executive order that deemed homosexuality among federal employees as a threat to national security. And as early as 1919, the U.S. Senate shut down a sting operation, spearheaded by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, which court-martialed 17 sailors accused of homosexual activity before public criticism moved the Senate to act.
Toward the end of the 20th century, chinks in the armor of the Armed Forces policy of exclusion began to appear. In May 1980, a federal district court ordered the U.S. Army to reinstate Staff. Sgt. Miriam Ben-Shalom, stating the Army had violated her First Amendment rights when it discharged her on the grounds of homosexuality. After a 10-year battle of appeals, the Supreme Court in 1990 refused to hear her case, thereby cementing the Army’s decision to discharge her. But Ben-Shalom’s journey was one of unprecedented legal victories that laid a foundation for future efforts.
In 1998, a Defense Department commission issued a report that revived and endorsed the conclusions of the 1957 Crittendon Report, arguing gay persons did not pose a substantial security risk. Four years later, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton campaigned for president stating, if elected, he would open military service to all qualified persons regardless of sexual orientation. Though the political climate would prevent him from making good on such ambitious claims, his efforts as president resulted in the compromise that became the DADT policy.
ALLIES WITHIN THE FORCE
Reflecting the diversity of the communities in which its members live and serve, the Cal Guard has been on the frontlines of LGBT diversity efforts since the 2011 repeal of DADT.
In addition to publicly endorsing the repeal, Maj. Gen. David. S. Baldwin, the state’s adjutant general, decided to lead from the front. Riding in an open-air Cal Guard Humvee alongside State Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, Baldwin participated in the 2013 Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade as part of an official Cal Guard contingent. Joined by recruiting booths and about 10 uniformed guardsmen, both gay and straight, Baldwin joined the openly gay Perez in bridging the divide between the Armed Forces and the state’s gay community.
“This marks the first time a U.S. National Guard force has directly outreached to the LGBT community at Pride,” Perez said after the parade. “Today makes it absolutely clear the Guard is committed to including and reflecting all the people they serve.”
This year, the Cal Guard marched further toward its objective of broader inclusion with the launch of its LGBT Ally program. At the forefront of this effort stands Matsubara, now an Army captain and company commander in the Cal Guard’s military intelligence community.
“We don’t really care who you love, we just care that you can fight.” – Army Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers
“We need to go beyond [traditional outreach] for Pride month and reach out to the allies which make up the majority of the ranks,” said Matsubara on June 27 at the LGBT Ally program rollout event at the Military Department Headquarters in Sacramento. “To me, an ally is someone who is openly supportive of including all members in our forces. … I was able to be open as a lesbian commander and to be authentic with the soldiers because of the allies.”
This is not Matsubara’s first time spearheading a state’s diversity efforts. Before transferring to California, she created a Strategic Diversity Plan for the Kentucky National Guard, an experience she described as “very challenging.”
“There were advocates and forward-thinking leaders championing the effort,” said Matsubara, “[but] many in the majority fought what they considered a call for special treatment, a transformation of their organization they did not want to see.”
Ironically, Matsubara found that even the concept of diversity needed broadening.
“I found a strategy to talk about diversity not just in terms of race, gender, ethnicity and the typical categories,” said Matsubara, “but instead included the many other forms of diversity to try and explain the value-added of embracing diversity, such as life experiences, MOS’s, civilian careers, age, generation, and even personality.”
Diversity is more than an issue of equality, said Matsubara, but also strategically important to the Cal Guard. It offers to “bring a more robust set of skills sets to the table,” a principle echoed by Cal Guard leadership.
Speaking to the performance-first character of the Armed Forces, Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, the state’s deputy adjutant general, told the June 27 audience, “We don’t really care who you love, we just care that you can fight.”
Working alongside the state’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office and Brig. Gen. Laura Yeager, director of the Military Department’s Joint Staff, Matsubara hopes to train volunteer allies who can help build a Cal Guard force that “from PFC to brigadier general will promote inclusion of LGBT service members and act as change agents.”
“Where we can really meet is on the Army Values,” Matsubara told the June 27 audience. “We all agree with treating people with respect, treating people with dignity.”
“The goals of our Ally program are in keeping with our Army Values,” said Yeager. “In the military, not only do we value treating people with respect, but we also do what’s right when no one is watching, even at our own peril. Being an ally is a natural extension of our values.”