Magazine's Fort Bragg Spouse of the Year online winner

Ashley Broadway and other same-sex military spouses do not have military ID cards or family member status, because the Department of Defense doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage. Ashley, like other same-sex military spouses, doesn’t receive military healthcare, moving or housing allowances or other similar benefits of being a military spouse.

Even so, she said the response she received when she first asked to join the Association of Bragg Officers Spouses was the first real discrimination she had experienced. The club’s leadership took two months to deliberate and first offered Ashley a guest membership, because she lacks a military ID. The club has since changed its policy.

“For the first time, I felt in my heart and my soul that I’m being discriminated against because I’m a lesbian,” she told me in a phone interview on Jan. 17, just before the club offered her a guest membership, which she declined.

Last week was an eventful one for Ashley and her Army wife, Lt. Col. Heather Mack. On Wednesday Heather gave birth to their second child, a girl. The couple also has a 2-year-old son.

On Friday, Ashley was named Military Spouse of the Year for Fort Bragg, N.C. The online competition, sponsored by Military Spouse Magazine, is part of a nationwide contest and is not affiliated with the Association of Bragg Officers Spouses.

Just after Ashley's win was announced, the Fort Bragg spouses club publicly invited Ashley to join as a full member. They released a revised membership policy that includes full membership for all legally married military spouses, even those who do not have ID cards, namely same-sex spouses like Ashley.

“I hate that it took so long for them to come to that decision, but, you know, I’m happy that they did,” Ashley said on Monday.

“I have responded to them that I hope to join real soon. Of course, just having had our daughter, family comes first ... I hope to attend an event and get involved starting in March.”

In spite of the timing, she said she hadn’t considered whether her contest win was the reason for the club’s change of policy.

“I really haven’t given it much thought,” she said. “I would hope that they met and they realized that the faces and family dynamics of the military is changing and it’s time for us to get on board with those changes ... I really don’t know if me being selected had something to do with it.”

Ashley said she has received many supportive messages from the military community. She has also heard -- and disputes -- criticism suggesting the online voting for the Military Spouse of the Year was influenced by activists groups like America Military Partners Association, which advocates for same-sex couples. Ashley is the group’s director of family affairs.

“A lot of people say it was the gay community from the country who did the voting, that had nothing to do with the military, but nothing could be further from the truth,” she said.

Ashley said she’s received so many messages that she hasn’t had time to respond to them all, many from military spouses and veterans and mostly from what she calls “straight allies.”

“Out of ten messages I have, maybe one or two are from someone who is gay or lesbian,” she said.

She said she has been surprised by the attention given to her desire to join the spouses club, but she thinks it’s given attention to bigger issues faced by same-sex military couples.

“We’ve got individuals who are suffering financially and emotionally and are separated from each other,” she said. “I look back and think I can’t believe this is what it took … I just can’t believe that me not getting into the spouses club is what has gotten things turning in D.C.”

The Pentagon and White House are apparently considering the issue of same-sex spouses, but have not made any official statements or policy changes.

I have been following the story of her request and the Bragg spouses club’s response and wanted to present both sides of this controversial situation. I interviewed Ashley and also contacted the board of Fort Bragg spouse club for their side of the story.

Below is my Jan 17 conversation with Ashley. A separate story includes my Jan 18 questions to, and the answers from a member of the executive board of the Fort Bragg officers spouses club.

Spouse Calls: How long have you been active in the American Military Partner Association?

Ashley Broadway: On and off since last January. I had a little one, so when I had time … Since January or February of 2012 I became increasingly more involved.

SC: With the repeal of DADT it probably became easier for you.

AB: Right. That’s why I got involved, because we have children and there were so many families out there that didn’t realize that there are … some loopholes in the system so that families can be included especially in the case that the child that is a military dependent. I felt that I needed to get involved and help these folks, because we’ve been through the rodeo trying to figure things out. I thought, hey, I can share my knowledge – not so much expertise, but mostly my knowledge – of what we’ve been through.

SC: Based on your experience, is the situation with the spouses club at Ft. Bragg, is that really the heart of the problem or is it part of a larger struggle that you’ve seen unfolding?

AB: Well, to be honest with you, I thought this was just sort of an isolated incident, but once this happened to me, I started getting emails and contacts from pretty much all over … from other gay families saying they’ve had different types of issues.

We’ve had people coming to us at AMPA saying “This little incident happened to me,” and “Oh, this happened to me.” Like I said at first I thought it was an isolated incident, but unfortunately we’re finding out that different things happen across the country. Not just denials of being in spouse groups and so forth. To me it’s just frustrating that there are things that the can be changed right now, things that the Pentagon can change or that various bases can do an exception to policy and they’re not (changing.) They’re really not looking at individual cases and saying, “We support all soldiers.” Again, we have basically two classes in the military. Unfortunately the gay and lesbian service members are not treated equally. They are treated like second-class citizens.

SC: In your situation at Fort Bragg, do you think they were caught off guard and didn’t know how to answer or did you think it was malicious? Was it that they didn’t want you or that they just didn’t know what to do about it?

AB: I think it was a little of both, actually. I first applied in the middle of November. I sent an email to the membership chair. Then she called me back and was like, “Uh, well, uh, you’re the first one. Let me look into this.” I didn’t hear from her and then I called her again and she said, “Oh, we’ve been really busy with a fundraiser, let me get back to you.”

After Thanksgiving I tried again to contact them. Toward the beginning of December, I sent them another email and said, “Can someone please give me a call pertaining to my inquiry about membership?” That’s when the membership chair called me back and said that the president … and the board said that I have to have a military ID.

I questioned it because on their Facebook page at the time and on their website, it didn’t say anything about needing a military ID. So I asked them to call me, well they didn’t call me.

Something told me – because I’ve worked or volunteered for nonprofits for years – that I needed to get a copy of their bylaws. So I contacted someone at MWR and requested a copy. I read over the bylaws and nowhere in the bylaws did it say that you had to have a military ID ...

That’s why I’m really frustrated with a lot of the officials at Fort Bragg, It looks like no one is questioning that this group is doing something underhandedly... I have had discrimination, very little up to this point, about being a lesbian, but I haven’t ever used that as a crutch or a reason or a woe is me ... but this is totally different.

This was the first time where I felt like in my heart and in my soul that I’m being discriminated against because I’m a lesbian.

SC: Is a lack of leadership the problem? Is there a level of frustration that DADT has been repealed, but nothing has been put into place for gay and lesbian partners to be given full status as military family members?

AB: There’s been absolutely no leadership coming down from the Pentagon, from the DOD or the Department of the Army. Here at Bragg, nobody wanted to step up and be a leader and say, “We’re going to stand up and do the right thing for all of our soldiers. We’re not going to exclude anyone.” I can speak for a large group her at Fort Bragg.

SC: I understand that you were invited to the First Lady’s Mother’s Day Tea at the White House in 2012.  Has that been symbolic support or have you been getting any real support from the White House or Joining Forces?

AB: No, unfortunately. I know that the White House has been briefed on what is going on but as far as direct support from the White House on this incident, no, we haven’t. But we have received a large amount of support from organizations like Blue Star Families, Military Spouse Magazine, Next Generation Military Spouses, an online support group. Those are military organizations that have come out in my defense and have supported me. Unfortunately, no we haven’t heard from Joining Forces.

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