Saying she faced daily harassment and death threats from other members of her unit, and commanding officers who supported her tormentors and refused to intervene, Private Bethany Smith, 21, deserted her unit at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and fled to Canada in 2007. Speaking to reporters outside the Canadian federal court in Ottawa on Tuesday, Smith said her superiors never intervened to stop her fellow soldiers’ abuse despite Department of Defense regulations prohibiting harassment based on sexual orientation.
Now calling herself a “war resister” and claiming she will face harsher punishment as a lesbian than a straight soldier for desertion, Smith is appealing for refugee status in Canada.
The harassment began, she said, when another soldier spotted her holding hands with another woman at a local mall while she was off-duty. The CBC quotes Smith as saying she ” had to endure not only verbal and physical harassment, but death threats and harassment letters on my door every day.”
One soldier who worked with her on the base’s fleet of vehicles would pick her up, shake her and throw her to the ground on a daily basis, she told CBC News.
“There were sergeants standing around laughing with him,” she added.
She also received anonymous hate mail at her door every night, she said, including one letter that warned: “We will suffocate you in your sleep.”
According to the Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network (see pg. 9), members of the armed forces are not even supposed to be asked about their sexual orientation by commanders and fellow-soldiers, and officially, the Department of Defense does not condone harassment based on sexual orientation.
Smith said despite asking for a discharge because she feared for her life, she was denied because her commander needed extra manpower for the unit’s upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. SLDN spokesman
Kevin Nix says this is in line with practices across the armed forces since the US invaded Afghanistan in late 2001 — on average, discharges under DADT from 2002-2008 are slightly more than half DADT discharges for all of 2001.
Because she was afraid she would be killed while in Afghanistan, Smith said, she deserted and fled to Canada. She is thought to be the only LGBT soldier out of the more than 200 deserters who have sought asylum in Canada since 2001