Miriam Ben-Shalom

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Miriam Ben-Shalom
מרים בן שלום
Nickname(s) Miriam Ben-Shalom
Born (1948-05-03) May 3, 1948 (age 68)
Waukesha, Wisconsin
Allegiance Israel (1968-1970)
United States of America (1974-1990)
Service/branch United States Army Reserve
Israeli Army
Years of service 1974-1976, 1988-1990
Rank Staff Sergeant
Unit 84th Training Division, 5091st Reception Battalion[1]
Battles/wars War of Attrition
Other work Suing for her reinstatement
Founding American Veterans for Equal Rights
protesting against Don't ask, don't tell
public school teacher

Miriam Ben-Shalom (Hebrew: מרים בן שלום‎‎, born May 3, 1948) is an American educator, activist and former Staff Sergeant in the United States Army. After being discharged from the military for homosexuality in 1976, she successfully challenged her discharge in court and returned to military service in 1987, the first openly-gay or lesbian to be reinstated after being discharged under the military's policy excluding homosexuals from military service. She served until 1990 when the Army succeeded in terminating her service after prolonged judicial proceedings.

Early life in US and Israel[edit]

Ben-Shalom was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, one of six children in a Roman Catholic family, and grew up in the surrounding area of Big Bend and East Troy. After her mother died in an automobile accident when she was six, she was largely raised by her father, a World War II veteran and owner of a local chain of convenience stores.[2] Graduating from high school in 1967, she married for a short time and had a daughter. The next year, she converted to Judaism and, at the age of 19, left with her daughter for a five-year residence in Israel, where she took up Israeli citizenship, remarried, changed her name to her current name and served in the Israeli Army during the War of Attrition as the driver of an armored personnel carrier.[3] In 1971, she returned to the United States, divorced and entered the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, majoring in creative writing and graduating with a B.A. and M.A.

Service, discharges and activism[edit]

In 1974, Ben-Shalom enlisted in the United States army reserve and joined the 84th Training Division. In 1975, she read the cover story of Time magazine's interview with Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam War Air Force veteran who decided to come out of the closet as a homosexual and was fighting his discharge. Although Ben-Shalom was out to her commander, the commander made no move to dismiss her until, after graduating from drill sergeant's school, she appeared on local television and outed herself as lesbian. Her commander filed discharge proceedings against her, and she was honorably discharged in 1976.

Ben-Shalom took the Army to court to overturn her dismissal, and in 1980 Judge Terence Evans of the U.S. District Court in Chicago ruled that her dismissal violated the First, Fifth and Ninth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution based upon testimony that she was only dismissed because of her statement to the press. The Army refused to comply with the ruling, and the case dragged on until 1987 when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago confirmed the previous ruling and forced the Army to comply with the ruling by threatening contempt of court fines. Ben-Shalom reenlisted in September 1988, but the Army appealed the decision and finally won an August 1989 decision from Judge Harlington Wood, Jr. that ruled against Ben-Shalom by ruling her statement to the press as an admission of guilt in violating military policy. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the her appeal of the case on February 26, 1990, and Ben-Shalom's military career ended.

Ben-Shalom returned to Waukesha and was one of six LGBT veterans who founded the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America (GLBVA), today known as the American Veterans for Equal Rights.

She continued to participate in a number of protests against the military policy excluding homosexuals from service and in 1993 protested the military's new "Don't ask, don't tell" policy by joining David Mixner in chaining herself to the White House fence. After a long period of work as a teacher, she returned to direct action and was arrested on November 15, 2010, in uniform after chaining herself to the White House fence along with other participants, including Dan Choi.

Present personal life[edit]

She is a member of the New England Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans and of the California Alexander Hamilton American Legion Post 448. A resident of Milwaukee with her life partner, Karen Weiss[4] also serves as a full-time tenured instructor of English with the Milwaukee Area Technical College.

Tributes[edit]

In 2015, she was named by Equality Forum as one of their 31 Icons of the 2015 LGBT History Month.[5]

2016 Milwaukee Pride Parade Controversy[edit]

In 2016, she was invited to be the Grand Marshall of the Milwaukee Pride Parade. Shortly after that invitation was made, the Board of Directors for the Milwaukee Pride Parade was notified that her Facebook page contained a number of transphobic comments about transgender women. They rescinded the invitation in an email citing

"The Bylaws of the Milwaukee Pride Parade include our mission statement, “To provide an outlet to the citizens of South Eastern Wisconsin in which GLBT individuals and groups can participate in a parade to show their pride.” We are an inclusive organization that seeks to be free of intolerance, and seeks to promote the equality of all members of the community. As such, we feel that we cannot have a Grand Marshal who has publically [sic] and repeatedly denigrated transwomen."[6]

This was her response to the Director's of the Milwaukee Pride Parade

My response (you must know that no one spoke to me personally, the above was an email letter!! Fucking cowards indeed!!):

<< To you bunch of Moral reprobates--so cowardly you can't even post a name: Really rather a cowardly manner to deal with this. You are not correct about my FB page, although my FB page does have posts from others on it about the so-called trans issue. This issue is very sensitive for women born of women, but I would not expect men to understand. Further, no one asked me about my stance -- which is very discriminatory indeed. For your information, I am indeed a PERF--penis exclusionary radical feminist who believes that women born of women have the right to safe spaces of their own and cultural events they put on for themselves and those sisters who might like to attend. After all, men have had a long history of male only spaces in the GBT community and not much ado was made of it. I believe that gender roles ought to be abolished so that people can just be--without feeling the need to surgically change their bodies to meet binary stereotypes which are artificial and not biological.

Your elimination is called sexism and is discriminatory, when I am considering what the trans community did to the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival and the threats that were made there that I personally saw and heard. You are no better then those who threatened to hurt women born of women simply because they wished to be in a nurturing environ with others who were like minded.

I see that Milwaukee Pride cares more about men than it does about women's safety. So be it. I was truthful about my beliefs and I hold with Thomas Paine: "It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive any thing more destructive to morality than this?" Thanks for fucking me over for being honest about what I think. You are no better than the Army. >>

Perhaps they ought to consider Bruce Jenner for the position. My response was also by email. I got fucked by the Army for telling the truth and I am now fucked by my so-called community for speaking my beliefs openly and honestly with my name attached. Anyone else wanting to fuck me over, please get in line. I would like to end with a vulgar rant but shall not. You know what? I don't care. This community never gave me much of a break really and why should they do so now. I will end with this quote about honesty and beliefs: I was truthful about my beliefs and I hold with Thomas Paine: "It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive any thing more destructive to morality than this?"[7]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Miriam Ben-Shalom Collection". Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. 
  2. ^ Steve Estes (May 14, 2007). Ask & tell: gay and lesbian veterans speak out. Univ of North Carolina Press. pp. 190–191. 
  3. ^ "Frontlines: Military Gays Fight Back". Mother Jones. 1 (4): 5–6. June 1976. ISSN 0362-8841. 
  4. ^ Karen Ocamb (November 22, 2010). "Former Sgt. Miriam Ben-Shalom on the Personal Impact of Serving in Silence". LGBTPOV. 
  5. ^ Malcolm Lazin (August 20, 2015). "Op-ed: Here Are the 31 Icons of 2015's Gay History Month". Advocate.com. Retrieved 2015-08-21. 
  6. ^ Miriam Ben-Shalom (April 27, 2016). "I am no longer Milwaukee Pride's Grand Marshal for their parade". Facebook. Retrieved 2016-06-09. 
  7. ^ Miriam Ben-Shalom (April 27, 2016). "I am no longer Milwaukee Pride's Grand Marshal for their parade". Facebook. Retrieved 2016-06-09.