Tell the U​.​S. Army that Miriam Ben-Shalom's service must be recognized

Tell the U​.​S. Army that Miriam Ben-Shalom's service must be recognized

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Julia Robertson started this petition to The United States Army and

Miriam Ben-Shalom was, and still is, as tough as they come. After all, she went up against an army to fight the ban on gay people. Nowadays, you can sign up to serve in the U.S. Army without hiding in a closet... and you can thank Miriam Ben-Shalom for that. But as is often the case, you'd have to do some digging to discover that it was a lesbian shero who kicked off this particular revolution. And sadly, to this very day, regardless of her excellent service record, the Army refuses to reverse the "erroneous enlistment" they've saddled her with. 

The way this has impacted her life isn't something everyone can relate to, and it's not something everyone can understand. When I ask Ben-Shalom if the Army ever reversed the erroneous enlistment — a status that effectively erases her from record — she confirms they have not. 

After she describes what it's done to her, I can feel the heaviness of it. She tells me, “I'd like it reversed if only so that I can have an American flag on my coffin to give to my family. No VA benefit, etc. Just that."

Even the strongest of warriors have their limits, and for Ben-Shalom, it's been this — this final flip off she's been left with. Imagine putting yourself in the line of fire, doing your job so well you're promoted and given commendations, only to be erased, as though none of it mattered, as if you were never there.

At the time, the Army treated Ben-Shalom with such disloyalty, and her family with such disrespect, refusing to so much as acknowledge her service with a flag at her funeral, and this can not stand.

Ben-Shalom has been attacked with an ice pick, shot at, and during her legal ordeal with the Army, she even lost custody of her daughter, a daughter she wasn't allowed to see for three years.

Some weights are too much to carry alone. This is where we need to do some lifting, fight for someone who risked it all to fight for us, and demand change. Tell the Army that it's high time they right this wrong. 

You'd have to do some major digging to discover that a lesbian kick-started the war on what would eventually be coined "Don't ask, don't tell." You'd have to do a whole lot of cutting and pasting to get the full picture. So allow me to rewind a bit and break it down:

In 1976, the Army discharged Ben-Shalom for being a lesbian under the ban. In 1980, Judge Evans ruled that Ben-Shalom’s discharge violated the U.S. Constitution, specifically the right to free speech. But the ruling was short lived. The U.S. Army refused to comply with the court's decision. In 1988, Ben-Shalom became the first openly gay person to be re-enlisted in the U.S. Army. She was promoted and given commendations. That victory was stripped away a year later when it was appealed in 1989. In 1990, the Supreme Court refused to hear her case. This time, Sergeant Ben-Shalom was not even given a discharge. She was released from the army as an "erroneous enlistment." In 1993, the outright ban was replaced with “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy recommended by President Clinton. The modified version of the outright ban, would continue the tradition of keeping soldiers in the closet, for fear of being discharged, for many years to come. In November 2010, Ben-Shalom was among 13 protesters arrested after handcuffing themselves to the White House fence to protest "Don't ask, don't tell," and refusing to disperse. Shortly after, in December of 2010, a repeal was signed into law, by President Obama.

While Ben-Shalom did at one point appeal to have the erroneous enlistment reversed, that status still remains in place today. The U.S. Army has not only left her burdened, they've effectively erased a lesbian shero, when they should be acknowledging her for all she's done. 

Until 1974, banks required a woman's husband to cosign in order to get a credit card. And it wasn't until 1976 that women were admitted into military academies. Without women like Ben-Shalom, there would be no advancing of our rights, no one to speak up when it really counts the most — when no one else is willing.

It's easy to swoop in and play the hero once someone like her gets the ball rolling, and with mainstream media being as it is, lesbian contributions always seem to conveniently get 'lost' in the shuffle. Media in general loves to redirect credit, typically omitting lesbians from the story altogether, but don't get it twisted — It was a lesbian, a tough-as-nails and tell-it-like-it-is lesbian, that stepped up, spoke up, and kick-started the war on a ban that would eventually be modified into a policy coined "Don't ask, don't tell" (a crafty continuation of the original 'stay in the closet or else').

Ben-Shalom told the Library of Congress, "I want it recorded that it was not a gay man who first won and went back in... It was a Jewish lesbian from the state of Wisconsin." After all, being a lesbian means going up against lesbian erasure on top of everything else. It often falls on the lesbian community, with little to no funding, to set the record straight when it's not recorded correctly. And even when it is recorded correctly, we're often fighting revisionists who want to erase the record, redistribute credit, or redefine what's on record.

Back when women were expected to play house, Miriam Ben-Shalom fought. She not only fought for her country, she fought for us. Now it's our turn to have her back. To tell the U.S. Army that they must recognize SSG Ben-Shalom's service, and honor her and her family as they would honor anyone else who served. We simply cannot allow lesbian sheroes to be ripped from the pages of his-story, continually erased.

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