Lesbian and Gay Troops Hold First Convention

October 14, 2011; Source: Associated PressThe OutServe Armed Forces Leadership Summit, hosted by Outserve, a formerly covert association of lesbian and gay service members, was held in Las Vegas over the past weekend. The conference was sponsored by leading LGBT rights organization and the CIA and was attended by active military personnel, veterans, civilian allies and leaders from OutServe’s 48 global chapters. The gathering sought to “provide an international forum on creating an environment of respect in the military with regards to sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The event provided the space for participants to build professional networks, discuss challenges faced by gay service members, and formulate strategies to help build a stronger and more inclusive military community. Workshops tackled issues such as partner and family benefits, post-military career opportunities, transgender service, and even scriptures and homosexuality.

Sue Folton, founding board member of OutServe and the first openly gay West Point graduate appointed to the academy’s board, said that “there are issues of leadership and faith and family that are specific to our community and that by addressing, our folks can be better soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and better leaders.”

Ty Walrod, a civilian co-founder of OutServe, explained that “part of the goal of the conference is to recognize the past, and also as an organization plan for the future.”

Although Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is now history, OutServe and other groups that support gay troops are still needed.

“I was so elated, so happy, when the repeal happened, but we still have a long ways to go,” Charlie Morgan, a personnel officer who has served in the military for 16 years, told the Los Angeles Times. She was referring to the fact that partners and spouses of gay service members are treated like second class citizens, denied the family support services, healthcare coverage and housing benefits afforded straight spouses. Morgan’s said that her partner can’t even shop at the base commissary.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, October, 17, 2011.

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Asian Immigrant Elected Head of American Legion

September 12, 2011; Source: The New York Daily News | The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans service organization, elected its first Asian American National Commander during its 93rd annual convention in Minneapolis earlier this month.

Fang Wong immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong half a century ago and worked undercover for the Army as a Chinese language expert during the Vietnam War. He retired as an Army chief warrant officer in 1989 and soon thereafter joined the Legion’s Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291 in New York’s Chinatown. Twelve years later, Wong turned his Legion post into a base of operations from which he helped direct relief efforts in Lower Manhattan in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

As the new leader of an organization of 2.4 million U.S. military veterans, it is now Wong’s job to lobby the Obama Administration and Congress to create much-needed jobs for soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The unemployment rate for returning veterans is 28%,” Wong told the Daily News. “We need the government sector and the private sector to understand that when you hire a veteran you get a very good employee.”

The Department of Defense reports that about 35,000 noncitizens are members of the military and approximately 5,000 to 8,000 immigrants with green cards enlist each year. The military actively recruits immigrants. As America’s military becomes more diverse, it is about time that an organization like the American Legion elects an Asian American immigrant as its leader.

Originally posted on Nonprofit Quarterly Nonprofit Newswire, September 15, 2011.

In Shadow of Debt Ceiling Debate, A Positive Immigration Bill Passes the House

 U.S. Navy Sailors with ties to the Filipino community welcome the Philippine navy frigate BRP Gregorio del Pilar Most of us were so riveted to or repelled by the debt ceiling circus that we missed the passage of a truly bipartisan bill. The House of Representatives on Monday debated and approved H.R. 398 by a 426-0 vote.

H.R. 398 seeks “to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to toll, during active-duty service abroad in the Armed Forces, the periods of time to file a petition and appear for an interview to remove the conditional basis for permanent resident status, and for other purposes.”

In other words, the statute would make it easier for married binational straight couples by giving foreign-born spouses with conditional green cards and their U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouses more time to petition for the removal of the conditional status. The amendment introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) would apply to couples in which either spouse is an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces serving abroad.

This statute would be a welcome relief for immigrant families in the military.

The Migration Policy Institute reports that about 65,000 immigrants serve in the U.S. military and foreign-born troops represent approximately five percent of active duty personnel. Over 11,000 foreign-born women serve in the Armed Forces. The National Center for Children in Poverty in turn counts 1.76 million children and youth in military families, a fraction of which hail from immigrant families.

Military families have a lot to deal with: the strain of constant separation due to frequent deployments; the stress caused by low wages and rising costs; the burden of one parent raising children and running a household alone; and most of all, the very real threat of losing a loved one fighting our wars abroad. Some immigrant military families have the additional anxiety brought on by an uncertain immigration status.

H.R. 398 would give those immigrant families a little reprieve to contend with our arcane and burdensome immigration system. It has been received in the Senate and is now with the Committee on the Judiciary. I wouldn’t be surprised if this also gains true and full bipartisan support among Senators and passes without many of us noticing. Now back to our sputtering economy, missing jobs and impotent lawmakers.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, August 4, 2011.