Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, How the VA Failed a Gay Marine

Long Before ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, LeRoy Kloss joined the Marines to serve his country, but it wasn’t his sexuality that got him discharged it was a heart condition. This is his story.

Long before those who enlisted in the US Armed Forces could serve openly and long before ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ was even heard of LeRoy Kloss was serving proudly in the US Marines. It was a different time back then, you could be dishonorably discharged from the military just for being gay and living your truth. The threat of a dishonorable discharge did not seem to bother LeRoy, he served his country from June 1983 to October 1991, “A friend and I joined on the ‘buddy program,’ I was tired of go no-where jobs,” he told me, “so I thought why not?” I had honestly no idea what I was getting myself into.” LeRoy was just 23 years old. I brought up the fact that he must not have hated it since he served for so long, “It turned out to be the best thing I ever did for myself. Beyond a steady paycheck I learned something valuable, something I didn’t have going in, self discipline.”

LeRoy Kloss shortly after he joined the Marines. Photo: Facebook

So many men and women who were LGBT at that time served with the fear and anxiety of being drummed out of the military, it was a fear that LeRoy didn’t share. “I didn’t flaunt my sexuality, there was a lot of ‘closet space,’ some people knew, but as long as I wasn’t flaunting it I was left alone. Looking back I never had that fear. It’s surprising, even to me.” LeRoy had long term plans to stay a Marine, but as fate would have it wasn’t his sexuality that forced him out of the military.

“It’s every Marines dream to be a drill instructor, it’s the ultimate head trip, make more Marines.” he told me when I asked him what his long term plans were if he would have stayed in. “I turned down the Warrant Officer Program and Officer Candidate School because I wanted to be a drill instructor first.” LeRoy failed a routine physical for Drill Instructor School, he found out that he had a bad heart, his valves were failing and needed replaced, he was only 28 years old. LeRoy was barred from combat and wasn’t deployed to Operation Desert Storm because he was on medical hold. The US military takes care of their soldiers, LeRoy was treated by the best doctors at Bethesda, Walter Reed, and The National Institutes of Health. When it came to staying in the Marines he held out for as long as he could, “Even though I wasn’t supposed to, I ran everyday day,” but a medical discharge was inevitable and then the reality of VA doctors began to set in. “When it was decided that I needed surgery the first time, they wanted to wait six months, even though my valves were failing.” Two weeks later he was finally allowed to be admitted to Northwestern where he was told he wouldn’t live 6 months. “When I went for surgery I was barely strong enough to walk into the hospital, I literally got thru the door and collapsed into a wheelchair.” At only 37 years old, LeRoy had two open heart surgeries. The day after he had his valve replacement LeRoy had an aortic aneurysm.

After surgery and recovery the reality of the situation sank in, the Marines was LeRoy’s home and his life, now that was all gone, “Not knowing what I was going to do to support myself was kind of scary, I did nothing for a year after I got out.” But they say once a Marine always a Marine and even though LeRoy didn’t wear the uniform anymore he moved passed his grief, he managed to pull himself up by his boot straps, he found the strength to not only heal but move on with his life. LeRoy found a niche and for the last 23 years has been working as a conductor for South Shore Freight Railroad.

In August of 2018 LeRoy found out that once again his heart valves were failing and he was no longer able to work. Surgery has to be delayed due to stents being placed into his heart to unblock his left anterior descending artery. Because of that surgery LeRoy has to be placed on blood thinners for six months, then off of them for two weeks before they can operate. The insurance LeRoy gets through his employer will cover his medical expenses but since he’s not able to work he’s exhausted his entire savings. Sick pay from his job ran out on April 29th and he’s recently had his truck repossessed. LeRoy has a medical discharge and a disability rating from the Marines and he is eligible for a temporary change in status so he can collect disability pay to help with his living expenses, but the VA botched his claim for a benefit increase and the doctor evaluating his situation has yet to submit her paperwork. He’s even called the White House VA hotline, but still he cannot get the help he needs. Not knowing where to go from here LeRoy swallowed his pride and asked for help with a GoFundMe Page. LeRoy Kloss is a veteran with a very serious heart condition and he’s about to get his utilities shut off because of a lack of support and as well as what some people might say is incompetence by the Veteran’s Administration. LeRoy isn’t the only veteran that this country has failed to look after and protect.

X-Ray of LeRoy Kloss after angiogram.

LeRoy has been getting a lot of attention lately from close friends and a the tight LGBTQ community in Michigan City and Northwest Indiana, yet he hopes that his struggles will bring attention to others, “I’ll take all the exposure this thing can get, not just for me, but for other veterans having issues.” When asked knowing what he knows about how hard it’s been for him to get proper health care coupled with all bureaucracy and ‘red tape’ that goes along with the VA, would he put on the uniform of a Marine all over again, “yes I’d do it again and I’d recommend it for anyone who needs direction or goals in life.”

Click to donate to LeRoy’s GoFundMe page.

Please join local entertainers Welcome to the Other Side as they host a benefit in LeRoy’s honor Saturday May 11, 2019 at Mugshots Lounge 1901 S Woodland Ave, Michigan City, IN 46360. The Doors open for this 21 and over show at 8pm show starts at 10 pm. There will also be a silent auction and all proceeds go to help KeRoy Kloss. Cover is $12 at the door.

JD Ford Indiana’s First Openly Gay State Senator Makes History

Newly elected state senator JD Ford and incumbent Mike DelphCarmel, IN- Openly gay Democrat JD Ford beat Mike Delph in a contentious race for state senator for Indiana’s 29th district. In 2014 Delph supported an amendment to the Indiana constitution defining marriage between one man and one woman. This is the second time Ford had ran against Senator Delph narrowly losing to the hard line conservative four years ago. 

Ford made history becoming Indiana’s first openly gay law maker elected to Indiana’s General Assembly. In his victory speech from the downtown Indianapolis Hyatt Ford said, “I just want to pause for a second to appreciate the historical significance that has happened tonight. Tonight, I become Indiana’s first openly gay lawmaker. Ladies and gentlemen, we just made history and no one can take that from us.” Ford ran what some people would call an unapologetic progressive campaign that advocated raising the minimum wage, environmental protections, fighting the opioid crisis, and passing hate crimes legislation that protects gender identity and sexual orientation. Senator Delph has long opposed hate crimes legislation. Indiana is one of five states without a hate crime law on the books.  

Ford’s promised to give and amplify the voices of every marginalized group of people in the state of Indiana which includes “people of color, women, Muslims, Jewish Hoosiers, seniors, LBTQ+ Hoosiers just to name a few.”  Local Indianapolis LGBT rights advocate Annette Gross praises Ford for his hard fought victory, “As a resident of State Senate District 29, I am thrilled that we finally have representation for ALL Hoosiers in this district. I watched first-hand as Mike Delph strove to deny same-sex couples the ability to share their lives together legally. In particular, he supports passage of Hate Crime Bill which will offer protections for all marginalized groups. We are finally living under a rainbow in Indiana.” Delph, a hard line social conservative often was perceived as a polarizing figure even among members of his own party. At one point Delph was disciplined by Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long for public criticism of the Indiana General Assembly failing to pass the amendment to the Indiana constitution, known as HJR-3 which would have made marriage equality illegal in the state.

This time around Ford had the endorsement of the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and a much bigger ‘war chest’ then he had four years ago beating Delph with 53% of the vote. District 29 includes parts of Carmel, Indianapolis and Zionsville. 

 

Drag Event as Political Fundraiser Causes Controversy in Fort Wayne

Candidate for Indiana’s 3rd district Courtney Tritch. Photo: Twitter

FORT WAYNE, IN-On Saturday September 2, 2018 After Dark Nightclub hosted a fundraiser billed on Facebook as “The Queens’s Court: Campaigning is a DRAG,” for Courtney Tritch who is running for US Representative of Indiana’s 3rd District. Ms. Tritch joined drag queen Della Licious on stage and gave a brief speech. During her time in the spotlight Ms. Tritch accepted cash donations from audience members and danced with Ms. Licious as she performed. Now “The Journal Gazette” is reporting that Ms. Tritch’s Republican opponent Rep. Jim Banks is now threating to report his Democratic rival for violating FEC (Federal Election Commission) rules.

After Dark’s Della Licious Photo: Facebook

A video of the event posted on YouTube clearly shows Ms. Tritch accepting tips as campaign donations. (You can see when Ms. Tritch takes the stage at the 21:30 mark). Incumbent Jim Banks’ campaign is now demanding Ms. Tritch, who is a staunch supporter of LGBTQ rights in Indiana, issue an apology to families of Indiana’s 3rd district and is insisting that Ms. Tritch violated FEC rules by not reporting the ‘tips’ that she accepted as campaign donations. According to a statement issued by Mr. Bank’s campaign manager, “Not only is this video deeply disturbing and offensive but it clearly shows Democrat Courtney Tritch illegally accepting undocumented cash campaign donations while she dances on stage with a drag queen. We are exploring FEC violations and looking at filing a complaint. In the meantime, Ms. Tritch may want to consider apologizing for this charade to the northeastern Indiana families she’s campaigning to represent.” But according to FEC rules only campaign donations from individuals of $50 or more are required to be reported and the Tritch campaign insists no rules were broken and has issued a statement through her campaign manager David Myles, “What is disturbing though is the clear homophobia demonstrated by Rep. Banks. In asking for an apology to the families of the 3rd district, he is stating that the LGBTQ community is excluded from his idea as a family.”

Rep. Jim Banks Photo: Facebook

Rep. Jim Banks has a history of anti-LGBTQ views which are public record. Rep. Banks campaign website notes that he was awarded the “True Blue” award by the the Family Research Council. The Family Research Council has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Rep. Banks also opposed changing the language in the Indiana Republicans Party’s platform that would have made the Indiana’s Republican Party more inclusive to the LGBTQ community and continues to support one man one woman marriage as well as businesses that discriminate against the LGBTQ community by refusing service.

After the LGBTQ news magazine “The Advocate” ran a story of the incident, Ms. Tritch addressed the controversy in a Facebook post, “Thank you to ‘The Advocate’ magazine for bringing international attention to Rep. Banks’ clear homophobia, as well as his unwillingness to actually discuss the issues that matter to all voters in Indiana’s 3rd District.” After several requests and initially stating that he would, Rep. Banks still refuses to publicly debate Ms. Tritch.

State Department Releases Statement Honoring Transgender Individuals

Washington D.C.- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a press

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

statement on November 20, 2017 honoring transgender individuals who lost their lives to violence during 2017.

Transgender Day of Remembrance was started nearly 20 years ago to memorize the death or Rita Hester, who was murdered on November 28, 1998 in Allston, Massachusetts. Rita Hester was a transgender woman of color and according to .Mic’s Project Unerased: Counting Transgender Lives the murder rate for young black trans women is 1 in 2,600 in comparison to the murder rate of the general population which is 1 in 19,000.

November 20th is recognized internationally as Transgender Day of Remembrance.  In a statement Secretary Tillerson condemns the “many transgender individuals who have lost their lives to acts of violence” and acknowledges that violence towards many in the LGBT community is on the rise. The state department is the only department under the Trump Administration to release a statement marking the occasion.

Transgender Soldiers File Lawsuit Against Trump

Washington D. C. – The National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLAD has

Then Candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Denver

named President Donald Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in a law suit arguing against banning transgender military personal from serving in the armed forces after.

On July 26, 2017 Mr. Trump Tweeted, “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our Military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Despite what was said on the Presidents social media account there is currently no transgender ban in the military and according to the Pentagon “no modifications” in the policy towards transgender soldiers will be made until further guidance from the White House.

The lawsuit known as Doe vs. Trump was filed by Five active duty transgender service members in U.S. District Court claims that the ban “upset the reasonable expectations of plaintiffs and thousands of other transgender service members and the men and women with whom they serve and fight” the law suit goes on to state that “Execution of the president’s directive will result in an end to service by openly transgender service members and has already resulted in immediate, concrete injury to plaintiffs by unsettling and destabilizing plaintiffs’ reasonable expectation of continued service.” One of the plaintiff’s listed as “Jane Doe” on the complaint said in a statement, “I am married and have three children, and the military has been my life. But now, I’m worried about my family’s future.” Currently more lawsuits are being planned by advocates for transgender soldiers such as the one pending filing from OutServe-SLDN and Lamda Legal.

The identities of the five plaintiffs in the lawsuit are being kept anonymous for fear retribution.

The lawsuit against the Trump administration can be seen here. Doe vs. Trump

 

 

 

Trump Bans Transgender Military Personnal

Then Candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Denver

(Washington D.C.) President Trump continues to roll back Obama era policies, today as he announced that transgender individuals would not be allowed to serve in the military in “any capacity.”

President Trump made his announcement in a series of Tweets Wednesday morning. Transgender activists like Meghan Buell from South Bend, IN. view this as a major blow to the progress transgender individuals have made in the last few years under the Obama administration and deem it as discriminatory.

In an exclusive statement to “The Beacon” Ms. Buell had this to say about The Presidents decision “To blatantly advocate for discrimination against a single demographic is the most un-American thing any person in power can do. As an out and proud transgender American, I stand against the President’s statement and call for all Trans Allies to speak up against this action.”

President Trump claims in his series of Tweets that he consulted generals and “military experts” in making his decision.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you” According to CNN there are over 6000 transgender soldiers serving in the military.

Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said in a statement on his website that regarding The Presidents decision.

“The President’s tweet this morning regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.

“The statement was unclear. The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently-serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today. Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military—regardless of their gender identity. We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so—and should be treated as the patriots they are.

“The Department of Defense is currently conducting a study on the medical obligations it would incur, the impact on military readiness, and related questions associated with the accession of transgender individuals who are not currently serving in uniform and wish to join the military. I do not believe that any new policy decision is appropriate until that study is complete and thoroughly reviewed by the Secretary of Defense, our military leadership, and the Congress.

“The Senate Armed Services Committee will continue to follow closely and conduct oversight on the issue of transgender individuals serving in the military.”

In his 2016 campaign then candidate Donald Trump claimed to be a “real friend” to the LGBT community as he was the only republican to speak out agains the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando Florida. Mr. Trump said in his 2016 campaign that “Hillary Clinton can never claim to be a friend of the gay  community as long as she continues to support immigration policies that bring Islamic extremist into our country and who suppress woman, gays and anyone else who doesn’t share their views or values.” Mr. Trump’s speech that was highly criticized at that time by Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign.

Will President Trump stop with this policy shift towards transgender soldiers or is the reinstating the the Clinton era Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy just around the corner, a question that may be on the mind of LGBT rights activist and gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual soldiers currently serving in the military.

realDonaldTrump
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……
Jul 26, 2017, 7:55 AM
realDonaldTrump
….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..
Jul 26, 2017, 8:04 AM
realDonaldTrump
….victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you
Jul 26, 2017, 8:08 AM

This is a developing story.  

The Art of the Talking Body, The Art of Martin Navejas

Martin Navejas, Photo: John M. Livelsberger

(Hammond, IN) With an infectious smile Martin Navejas greeted us at the entrance of the White Ripple Gallery in Hammond. This would be Martin’s second solo exhibition and if he was nervous you could not tell. We moved slowly up a flight of stairs passing the art work of what I assumed were other artists to be featured at the gallery. We arrived to a huge room at the top of the stairs and along the walls the work of the 27 year old artist hung.

I walked around the room taking in his work, most were nudes with both men and woman. What struck me about Martin’s work was not just the level of nakedness the models have but where the pictures were actually taken. To Martin the locations where he takes the pictures are just as important as the models and in some of his work it’s almost as if the model is secondary and the location and is the main subject, like the abandoned church confessional that was used in one of his pieces.

The White Ripple Gallery & Co. Photo: Facebook

Born and raised in Hammond Martin Navejas has been taking pictures since he was a teenager, saving his allowance to buy disposable cameras and pay for film developing. Inspired by other photographers pictures of abandoned buildings, Martin started ditching school and ‘breaking into’ empty and abandoned buildings in his hometown and in other locations to get his own pictures. After awhile accompanied by his friend Tia he would put her into his early work, then a natural progression to other models as his work evolved. “I’ve always wanted to tell stories, but I’m not a good writer or speaker, so I thought I could do it through my photography.” When asked what inspired him I was surprised when he said music and poetry. “You would never think that inspiration comes from a song that I hear but in my head it works.” Indeed it does as Martin puts a visual to what he hears. Martin describes striping the model down to their bare essentials just like the abandoned locations that he uses as a backdrop. Referring to his body of work, “There’s a story you can make up in your head.”

When I asked Martin what he says to a person that cannot differentiate or compares his works of art to pornography he had this to say. “I feel like maybe this is just me, but I feel if you take away the clothes, the mask, if you will, essentially I think working with the naked body, they (the model) are more vulnerable. It’s more genuine, it’s more raw.” Using physical structures that have been abandoned by man and taken over by nature seems to make the body of his work genuine for both location and model, naked bones bare. His work can come of as sad and lonely but almost romantic and beautiful at the same time.

Artwork by Martin Navejas: Photo by John M. Livelsberger

Martin Navejas is an upcoming young gay artist that is putting his mark on art and culture in Northwest Indiana with his thought provoking and provocative work.

You can experience the work of Martin Navejas starting June 10th at the White Ripple Gallery & Co. located at 6725 Kennedy Ave. Hammond, IN 46323.

 

 

 

Is a Nationwide ‘R. F. R. A.’ Coming on May 4, 2017?

Then Candidate Donald Trump at a rally in Denver

The ‘religious liberty’ executive order that has been championed by Vice-President Mike Pence and and other religious conservatives will allegedly be signed by President Donald Trump on Thursday May 4, 2017. According to “Politico,”  http://www.politico.com/story/2017/05/02/donald-trump-religious-liberty-executive-order-237888 two senior administration officials confirmed the plan that is set to coincide with the “National Day of Prayer.” Conservative leaders have been pressuring the President to fulfill the campaign promise that he made to protect so called religious freedom. Some experts claim that the order is to broad and will let any business, employer, landlord, or health care provider discriminate against the LGBT community for any reason as long as they claim it goes against their religious liberty.

In March of 2015 then governor Mike Pence signed Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” into law which caused outrage in Indiana’s LGBT community. The law also caused outrage among Indiana based companies like Salesforce and Angie’s List, as well as the NCAA, also based in Indiana. Opponents of the law claimed that it cast the Hoosier state as unwelcoming and discriminatory towards the LGBT community. Religious leaders such as Eric Miller from Advance America, a right wing lobbying group, said at the time, “It is vitally important to protect religious freedom in Indiana, it was therefore important to pass Senate Bill 101 in 2015 in order to help protect churches, Christian businesses and individuals from those who want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs!” The bill was signed by Governor Pence behind closed doors and ended up costing the State of Indiana over 60 million dollars in revenue.

During his campaign, then candidate Trump touted himself to be a friend and champion to the LGBT community by Tweeting on June 14, 2016, “Thank you to the LGBT community!  I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.” Yet during his short time in office President Trump has continuously rolled back former President Obama’s executive orders protecting LGBT rights.

 

Transgender Prom King an Indiana First

North Central High School Prom King Alan Belmont and his date Anastacia Cohen. Photo: Courtney of Emma Brett, @emmaline.jpeg

North Central High School in Indianapolis hosted their annual prom and for the first time in the school’s history a transgender student is crowned prom king.

17 Year old Alan Belmont, who started coming out as transgender at the age of 15 knew that he identified as a straight boy. Belmont started running for prom king not out of a need to by popular but to show everyone including those who are younger and wrestling with their sexuality that they are okay, “I wanted young kids at my school, who are trans or maybe gay or just coming into their identity, to know that being LGBT doesn’t have to be a cripple and that being LGBT is something that you should be proud of and you should represent.”

Not all of Belmont’s peers were so accepting and after he had posted flyers at his school urging the student body to vote for him the words ‘prom king’ were scratched out and replaced with the words ‘prom queen.’ “I knew that there were going to be some people who weren’t as accepting as others, but I couldn’t let myself be depressed because if I did, I would let them know that they won, and I didn’t them to have that,” he said of the incident.

After it was announced that Belmont had been crowned prom king he had this to say, “It was honestly one of the most heartwarming feelings that I’ve ever felt. Just to feel an audience of my peers and an audience of believers in progression, to hear that my peers were on the same page that I was was incredible and to know that there were juniors I hadn’t met yet who voted for me was incredible.” Belmont attended the dance with his girlfriend, Anastacia Cohen.

Correction: The photo provided was courtesy of Emma Brett. Credit was mistakenly originally given to WTHR TV.

Seventh Circuit Court Rule Against Discrimination

Kim Hively

The full Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in an 8-3 decision in favor of Kim Hively, who sued IVY Tech Community College on the basis of sex discrimination. Ms. Hively who had taught at the school had been discriminated against for being a lesbian and was not offered full time employment by the college. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals is the same court that upheld Judge Richard Young’s decision to strike down Indiana’s gay marriage ban in June of 2014.

In the complaint against IVY Tech, Ms. Hively’s lawyer, Gregory Nevins of Lambda Legal claimed that not allowing Ms. Hively full time employment at the college violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. In the ruling, Chef Judge Diane Wood wrote for the majority, “It is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discrimination on the basis of sex. It would require considerable calisthenics to remove the ‘sex’ from sexual orientation.” The ruling that the 1964 Civil Rights act also protects LGBT employees from workplace discrimination has the potential to reshape Title VII nationwide.

Attorney Nevin’s cited a case that appeared before the Supreme Court in the 1980s in which workers were discriminated against based on their mannerisms and who did not behave in the stereotypical social norms of male and female. The High Court found in favor for the plaintiff’s that their civil rights were violated. Mr. Nevin’s found the same argument applied to Ms. Hively’s case against IVY Tech Community College. “You can’t discriminate against a woman because she rides a Harley, had Bears tickets or has tattoos, but you can if she’s a lesbian.”

Eight out of the 11 judges that heard the case were all appointed by Republican presidents including Judge Richard Posner who asked the attorney representing IVY Tech, John Maley, “Who will be hurt if gays and lesbians have a little more job protection.” When Mr. Maley could not think of an answer, Judge Posner then asked Mr. Maley what the “big deal” was.

In the unlikely event the Republican controlled Congress chooses to amend Title VII to include sexual orientation, this case could still appear before the United States Supreme Court.