Current Affairs

Lesbian soldier who deserted US Army pleads for refugee status

Jessica Geen September 8, 2009
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A lesbian soldier who deserted the US Army after allegedly being physically abused and threatened is appealing to be allowed to stay in Canada as a refugee.

Pte Bethany Smith, also known as Skylar James, said other soldiers at her unit in Fort Campbell, Ky, discovered she was a lesbian after seeing her with another woman.

According to CBC News, she claimed that she was then treated as “less than human”, with one colleague throwing her to the ground on a daily basis. Smith, who was 19 at the time, also claimed she received hate mail every night, with one letter threatening to kill her.

As gay soldiers are usually discharged after admitting their sexuality, she went to her first sergeant expecting to be allowed to leave. However, she was told the paperwork would be dealt with after the unit returned from a posting to Afghanistan.

Her lawyer Jamie Liew has suggested the army ignored its own policies because it was short of personnel for the Afghanistan deployment.

When she was denied a discharge, Smith decided to desert and drove to the Ontario border with another soldier.

She was helped by the War Resister Support Campaign to settle in Ottawa and find a job.

Liew believes that if returned to the US, Smith will not only fear for her life but will also face military charges of desertion, absence without leave and indecency.

The indecency charge would arise from Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which makes engaging in homosexual activity a crime. It also means gay military personnel must keep their sexual orientation secret.

Although many other deserters are now serving prison terms, Liew believes Smith has a strong chance of winning refugee status, saying: “Bethany is coming with an extremely different story. She’s coming because of the way her life was threatened because of her sexual orientation.”

Smith’s case comes just days after it was revealed a gay US Navy sailor was allegedly brutalised for two years for refusing to sleep with a female prostitute.

According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Youth Radio, former Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Rocha was physically and sexually abused by his fellow sailors at a military dog base in Bahrain.

His abuse was one of dozens of alleged cases discovered by a Navy investigation but as yet, only Rocha himself has been discharged, under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

More: Americas

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