Fighting to serve: Monica Hill had a stellar career in the U.S. Air Force until “don’t ask, don’t tell” got her kicked out. Now she’s one of 12 expelled service members who are suing to get their old jobs back
In July 2001, Capt. Monica Hill was just another Air Force physician on reserve duty. Then she was summoned from a civilian hospital in Ohio to work at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
No big deal, she thought.
Sure, she was a lesbian in a 14-year committed relationship, but Hill had long lived as an out lesbian only at home and kept her military coworkers in the dark. She joined the Air Force soon after the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy went into effect, knowing the system was flawed but also thinking it would protect her. She now admits that was naive thinking.
Two weeks after Hill was ordered to Andrews, her partner, Terri Cason, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain. “There wasn’t a way to take care of Terri and serve in the Air Force,” says Hill. When she asked the Air Force for a deferment from her assignment to be with her sick partner, her request violated “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Hill was dismissed.
From 1993 to 2003 nearly 10,000 gay men and lesbians were discharged from the U.S. military due to their sexual orientation. Now 12 ejected service members, including Hill, are putting human faces on that daunting statistic by suing the U.S. Department of Defense to be reinstated. The lawsuit, Cook v. Rumsfeld, may not be heard until 2006.
Notes Steve Rails, a spokesman for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which is backing the suit: “They are not asking for promotions, pay increases, or other advancements”–just to get their jobs back.
Cason died in September 2001. Three months later Hill was called to her discharge hearing. She was forced to produce a death certificate for Cason to prove that her request for a deferral was not a ploy to escape active duty. She was asked invasive questions: Had she been faithful? Did she intend to sleep with women again?
“It was just cruel,” Hill says quietly. “It was like I was dirty and a criminal. I had no value in the world. I was just astonished and shocked and dismayed.” As if that weren’t demoralizing enough, the Ah” Force demanded that Hill immediately repay her medical school tuition–about $65,000.
SLDN officials believe that Lawrence v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned sodomy laws in 2003, has made it possible to fight “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Lawrence was successfully argued by putting consensual sodomy in the context of privacy rights for gay men and lesbians. Also helpful is a November military court ruling that cited Lawrence in overturning a male Army specialist’s guilty plea for engaging in private, consensual oral sex with a female civilian. In the past the military has argued that military law is not antigay, simply anti-“sodomy”–a rule that must apply equally to gays and straights.
Yet the current administration’s unabashedly conservative tilt has many legal experts concerned that while the case of the SLDN 12 will keep the military’s unfair gay bashing and expulsions before the media, the accused will not be putting on uniforms again anytime soon.
Wildman is The Advocate’s Washington correspondent.
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