On Thursday, January 19, 2012, the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center announced that they've concluded their investigation of an allegedly homophobic nurse who harassed a lesbian Marine vet, substantiating the claim that this nurse subjected the vet (Esther Garatie) to anti-LGBT abuse. According to the VA: "Ms. Pandithurai will retire from federal service effective January 21, 2012."
Prior to Jessica Gerson's campaign on Change.org, the VA hadn't even responded to Esther's formal complaint.
Within just a few weeks, the petition received several thousand signatures. LGBT publications around the nation started talking about Esther's story, and pressure was building on the Dallas VA to offer a response. That's when Esther finally heard from the VA. They had her come in to meet with a different counselor and took a statement about what happened with Pandithurai before launching a full investigation.
By the time the Dallas VA concluded its investigation, nearly 20,000 people had signed Jessica's petition in support of Esther.
“It’s reassuring for me and for the thousands of people who stood with Esther to know that the Dallas VA Medical Center takes allegations like this seriously,” said Jessica Gerson, who launched the campaign on Change.org. “But more importantly, gay and lesbian veterans like my friend Esther should feel comforted that the VA system has become a little more safe and accepting thanks to the removal of this homophobic nurse.”
Esther Garatie also issued a statement upon learning about the removal of Nurse Pandithurai:
"I really want to thank all of the people that have come together to support me and other veterans," said Esther. "Thank you for standing up against anything like this ever happening -- to any veteran -- ever again."
"When I heard my name called, 'Esther,' I got up and walked toward the voice of the woman, who barely looked at me, and called me 'Sir.' I followed her into her office and before I sat down, politely said, 'Actually, it’s Ma’am…. My name is Esther.' She sat down and looked at me, and her first question was, 'Are you a Lesbian?' Her second question to me was, 'Have you asked God into your heart? Have you been saved by Jesus Christ?' This is when I realized that I was no longer a United States veteran in her eyes, I was just a homosexual."
Written above are the exact words that my friend Esther Garatie used to describe her recent visit to the Dallas VA Medical Center. Esther is a Marine veteran, wounded in service to her country and Honorably Discharged from the Marines as a result. She walked into a mental health clinic at the Dallas VA Medical Center on October 12, 2011 and was seen by a nurse practitioner named Lincy T. Pandithurai. Nurse Pandithurai subjected Esther to a vitriolic, hateful rant that lasted THREE hours (you read that right!) on the topic of Esther's sexual orientation. Ms. Pandithurai told Esther that the only reason she's depressed is because she's gay.
When Esther broke into tears, Ms. Pandithurai announced that her tears were clearly a manifestation of guilt over her sexual orientation (rather than distress at being abused while seeking help). Ms. Pandithurai stated that Esther is living in darkness and needs to "return to the light." She also told Esther that there are churches now that "actually accept homosexuals and can help you get your life back on track and stop choosing to be gay." She further stated that "homosexuality used to be a diagnosis until recently, but they changed it because of Obama." (In point of fact, homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973. President Obama was 11 at the time.)
This is only a brief sample of the verbal and psychological abuse Esther was subjected to. As a result of this mistreatment, Esther left the VA in far more danger of harming herself than when she entered.
The American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Nurses Association have all stated publicly that homosexuality is not a choice and is not pathological. So-called “reparative therapy,” which Ms. Pandithurai seemed to be attempting in brief, has also been condemned by these same organizations as ineffective and potentially damaging psychologically.
Nurse Pandithurai was operating as an employee of the U.S. Government, a mental health professional, and a licensed Nurse Practitioner. Her treatment of Esther violated laws and ethics governing all of these roles. The Establishment Clause in the First Amendment prohibits the government, and thus any government employee acting in her professional capacity, from endorsing any particular religion or, indeed, religion at all. Clearly Ms. Pandithurai is acting in violation of U.S. Constitutional law. She is also practicing in violation of state law in the form of Texas’ Nursing Practice Act, Sec. 301.452(b)(10) and 301.452(b)(13).
Ms. Pandithurai needs to be fired from her position and subjected to appropriate discipline by the Texas Board of Nursing, so that she can no longer disguise hate under the pretense of providing professional help. Formal complaints have been issued to the Dallas VA Medical Center and the Texas Board of Nursing, but we need your help to show support for Esther's campaign.
To read the full story as reported by the Dallas Voice, check out:
To read the full text of Esther Garatie's personal statement, check out: