Navy Officer Actually Fired For Letting Anti-Gay Hazing Go On For Eight Months

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was officially repealed in September of 2011, and today the Pentagon hosted its first Pride celebration. Mitt Romney has admitted that even if he wins the presidential election, DADT won’t be reinstated. These things are excellent markers of progress. But something else important also happened this week, on a smaller scale: an officer in the Navy lost his job over a failure to address hazing and harassment that involved gay slurs and insults.

also applicable to navy. image via slapupsidethehead.com

The sailor who was a victim of hazing was called “Brokeback” and “faggot” by his comrades, and over the course of several months, he was so deeply affected by the harassment he experienced that he feared he might harm himself or others. Most disturbing of all, although the sailor was reportedly generally well-liked, the harassment began after he reported an attempted rape at knifepoint while the ship was docked in a foreign port. After he reported it, fellow shipmates asked the sailor if his attempted rapist was his boyfriend, and according to the AP, “someone posted a drawing of a stick figure being sexually assaulted.”

Several of the sailors involved in the harassment have been subject to punishment, like loss of rank and pay. And Master Chief Machinist’s Mate Charles Berry, who had been “chief of the boat,” has been relieved due to “dereliction of duty.” The Navy ruled that while he hadn’t been involved in or responsible for the hazing, he had been aware of it, and he hadn’t taken steps to inform his superiors, as was his duty. Berry has been temporarily reassigned to a different post.

We already know that harassment and anti-gay sentiment in the armed forces can make an already dangerous and stressful job much worse for gay servicemembers, and increase the already-high risk of PTSD and suicide. And we already know that harassment and even assault can often go unpunished in the military, especially when its victims are women. So in this regard, the Navy’s reaction to this case is a big deal — one researcher who’s focused for years on hazing in schools and the military says that this is “a significant and positive response by the Navy in regard to requiring a chain of command to take responsibility in the event of a substantial hazing allegation.” It’s also an active step in making the military a safe place for queer people to serve. Allowing gay people to serve openly isn’t necessarily something to be patted on the back for if those gay people are still facing harassment and bigotry that’s tacitly sanctioned by the administration. The Navy’s response wasn’t all that it could have been; the sailor in question endured eight months of harassment, starting in 2011. But stories like this are an indication that the military really is aiming for a diverse and equal armed forces, and perhaps also a culture of accountability around hazing and harassment.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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12 Comments

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    This is progress, but more needs to be done. Sexual assaults especially are too common in the military, and most of the perps get away with it. I hope more women and men call the police, and not the MP’s as back up in case the military does what it always does and brush it under the rug.

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    While it’s still awful that this sailor had to suffer eight months of harassment, the fact that the Navy actually did something about it (eventually) shows a great deal of progress and growth on their part. Baby steps, I guess.

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    Yes, I’m sure 8 months seems like forever for someone who’s not part of such a huge organization, but in reality, for it to only take 8 months for the upper chain of command to take such drastic action is really impressive. Yes, betsey this is fantastic progress because the military is one of the largest employers in the country, one deeply steeped in tradition and that places a ton of importance on a hierarchy, and for good reason. So for an organization such as this to do something so forceful about this issue is nothing short of awesome. It also reflects years of hard work within the ranks to make a change that is so needed. 15, 20 years ago there were no Equal Opportunity Advisers (EOAs) or Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) representatives. Now every Naval command and branch in the world has these programs or others like it. If you were to take a company of similar size and influence and look at what they have done to prevent sexual harassment and assault in their ranks, I doubt you would find such reaching programs. We’re briefed multiple times a year on EO and SAPR and diversity. Yes, it’s very much needed, and yes, there is ground to be made up, but please do not claim that not enough is being done or not enough attention is being paid to the problems that confront our sailors. The channels are there now, and our sailors are being heard. The change happening fast. The Navy is a professional, disciplined organization, and we are being trained that way. Not a single incident is okay, but they happen, and when they do, they are being dealt with. So until you can show that you have some understanding of how the military works and what its like to be a servicemember, your critiques just seem small minded and prejudicial. You are welcome to disagree with the military, that’s your right. But at least make your comments somewhat informed or don’t make them at all.

    By the way, a Master Chief Petty Officer is not an officer. They are the most senior enlisted and while they don’t have the rank of an officer and that ultimate decision authority, they definitely have more clout. It’s a huge deal for a Master Chief to get relieved like this.

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      “Yes, I’m sure 8 months seems like forever for someone who’s not part of such a huge organization, but in reality, for it to only take 8 months for the upper chain of command to take such drastic action is really impressive.”

      A good thing sure, impressive….no.

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    I am just a guest here, I am pointing my sister to this site for a sense of community but I want to respond to this as a former sailor. I know for those not in service, that 8 months may seem long but you have to realize, a senior enlisted of that rank are confirmed by congress. The Navy aggressively went after this Master Chief. It takes an act of congress to get rid a person at this rank. They didn’t reduce him in rank, that didn’t shuffle him to another post, they kicked him out with loss of retirement and benefits. That takes a member of congress to sign off on or the SECNAV. That is what caused the 8 month time frame. This requires a trial held by JAG, a ruling to be made and then paperwork to be done.

    The Navy is not perfect, it has a ways to go but they have been on the forefront in leading the charge for equal rights for all. We all want justice and equality now, but I hope in the push to right the ship that everyone understands the process and that it does work. Thank you for letting me put in my two cents.

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