This week marked the official end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the policy that allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the U.S. military so long as command didn't learn about their sexuality. Luiza Fritz, who was discharged in 2008 for being a lesbian, would like to continue her service, and she may take legal action to make it happen even though the military is currently garnishing her wages after kicking her out.
"I served about thirteen-and-a-half years in the Iowa National Guard as an MP," Fritz says. "I was an E7 platoon sergeant in charge of about forty guys," and during her time in uniform, "all my evaluation reports were rated outstanding or above outstanding." Moreover, Fritz became comfortable enough with her fellow soldiers that she was able to be fairly open about her relationship with her wife, Sarah. "I would frequently bring her to family functions having to do with the unit, and nobody gave me too much grief about it," she notes.
Things changed in February 2008, when her unit was sent to Iraq for the second time. "They deployed us too early, and they didn't have a job for us," she recalls. "So they split up our unit by platoons, and I was reassigned to a unit from Oklahoma that was doing detainee operations -- running a prison. And that took me out from under the umbrella" of the Iowa National Guard, "and opened me up to anyone and everyone who wanted to find a reason to get rid of me."
Before long, Fritz came into conflict with some of the Oklahoma troops, who "didn't follow policy as well as I'd like. We butted heads, and I felt they didn't care for me, because I was an opinionated female who was strong and had a lot of rank. Apparently, I intimidated people."
This friction led to an investigation of Fritz. Just last night, she learned of its origins from another soldier, and she was shocked to discover that the person who spurred the inquiry was one of the Iowa soldiers. However, she was told the man in question, now retired from the military, was "swayed in some way by individuals in the Oklahoma unit. They basically had him go around behind my back and try to get statements from other soldiers in my platoon against me."
Evidence wasn't tough to find. "Sarah and I had gotten our domestic partnership in Denver prior to my deploying," she says. "So that being a matter of public record, it violated the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy by way of what they call 'attempted marriage' -- that's the technical phrase for it." Fritz returned to the states on leave in June 2008, and during that fifteen-day period, most of the detective work took place. Upon her return, she spent days with an investigator. "I didn't tell him a whole lot," she concedes, "but I did say that if they were going to proceed with the charge, they needed to get it done and not waste my time. And a week later, I was in Fort Dix, New Jersey, being processed out of the military." Her official discharge date was August 14, 2008.
Financial insult would eventually be added to career injury. "I signed a reenlistment contract in February of '07 for a $15,000 bonus," explains Fritz, who's currently a fifth-year apprentice union electrician. "Being discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell says it was my fault for the discharge -- and they're trying to recoup that money. So as of February of this year, they started garnishing my paycheck at 15 percent. They're taking money away from me."
In her view, the garnishment is another example of injustice. As a result, she says, "I'm seriously considering contacting an attorney who might be able to help me with this -- help me find a recourse for the recoupment and potential reenlistment. I feel like the details that came out last night might lead to some recourse because of malicious intent -- which I feel there was."
Why would Fritz want to rejoin the military after all the bad things that have happened to her in recent years? For one thing, she still loves the Iowa National Guard, which she believes treated her fairly and respected the work she did. "I had a career there, and there was a spot for me -- and I need to finish that," she says. Besides, she goes on, "I think there are probably a lot of people out there like me who were exemplary soldiers and served well, with dignity, and who deserve to be there. My sexuality had no bearing on what I did for that unit. I love them, and they were a big part of my life -- and to not have them in my life is really hurtful, because I dedicated so much time to them."
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Despite being in limbo personally, she's excited by the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. "It's a monkey off our backs," she says. "It was like a gray cloud that always hovered over you, and now that gray cloud has been cleared away and there's freedom to be the individual you are. I always served in that manner. Being a soldier was more important to me than my sexuality. I was a soldier first."
As for those who warn that Don't Ask, Don't Tell's repeal will lead to dire consequences, "I'm a firm believer in us all being trained soldiers. We're all professionals, and once you put on the uniform, you act in a professional manner. So I don't see any issues of the gayness overtaking the uniform."
This Friday, Fritz, who's a member of the Colorado GLBT Color Guard, will be among the hosts of a Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal celebration at Charlie's Denver. The following day, The Center, one of Fritz's biggest supporters, will put on a 35th anniversary gala at the Infinity Park International Ballroom. Click here for more information.
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Gay immigrants: Washington Post says to halt deportations of immigrants in same-sex unions."