1. Introduction to Dr. McNamara:
Dr. McNamara is a social scientist, a researcher, and a social worker in the Air Force. She does clinical work, research, and teaching for the Air Force. For her Ph.D. dissertation, she was able to partner on DoD projects happening at her university which looked at the experiences of LGBT service members after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
So many people go to therapy for troubled marriages” -- Dr. Kati McNamara
Even though people could serve opening in the military regardless of their sexual orientation starting in 2013, it wasn't until 2015 that same sex military couples have been respected as legit couples. Meaning that prior to 2015 and the federal rule recognizing same-sex marriage, spouses couldn't get an military ID's, health insurance, go to the commissary on their own, or pick up their kids from school on the military base. According to Dr. McNamara, “It’s an emotional and logistical problem.”
Between 2013 and 2015, several support groups formed to support same sex spouses:
If they hear a red flag--someone saying something negative about LGBT people--they code that as this person is probably not safe." -- Dr. Kati McNamara
3. Unique LGBT Couple and Family Military Experiences:
The ripples of all of this is what Dr. McNamara and her colleagues researched. When though "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" had been repealed a few years prior, when Dr. McNamara signed up for the military, her paperwork to sign up still had forms saying that she wouldn’t be in a same-sex relationship. According to Dr. McNamara, there is a lot of mental math that people who are LGBT do in looking for green flags that other people are safe to disclose their sexual orientation to. And they have to do this every time they PCS and move.
In her and her colleagues research, they found that life is better after "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and everyone is generally glad that same sex marriage is recognized, and "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" was repealed. However, they also found that people who are LGBT often still wonder about anti-LGBT views at the individual level and about how military culture has not caught up with the policies.
In the military, a lot of the resources for couples are with the chaplain. But historically there have been a lot of anti-LGBT chaplains in the military. There has also been a long history of trauma from the church toward LGBT individuals. This then puts a lot of couples off from considering going to the chaplain for help with their relationship. This experience of discrimination is related to physical and mental health problems--something called minority stress. There are between 75K - 100K LGBT service members, but LGBT folks have high attrition from the military because of minority stress and lack of acceptance.
Young LGBT people are looking for someone at least 1 rank higher than them to be out in order to be out." -- Dr. Kati McNamara
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Elizabeth Polinsky is a marriage and couple therapist specializing in working with military members, veterans, and their families. Liz is located in Norfolk, Virginia, and provides online counseling services throughout Virginia, South Carolina, and Arkansas.
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The Communicate & Connect Podcast
In Communicate & Connect For Military Relationships, I provide educational tips for relationships, communication, and navigating military family life.