The OutHeroes Project: CPT Tanya Domi

| September 1, 2011 | 2 Comments

As we count down the days to the final end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we are highlighting the contributions of military service members who’ve come before us in this fight for justice. In particular, we are focusing on those whose stories have not been publicized recently, those who many have forgotten – or never knew. This is far from a comprehensive list: it is only a small and random sample of all those who struggled and sacrificed so that gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans can serve in the military with integrity. But these inspirational stories are solid reminders that LGBT people have served their country, and will continue to serve their country, fiercely and honorably. 

After September 20th, once “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is finally ended, OutHeroes Project will profile currently-serving gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard members.

In Honor of Captain Tanya Domi, US Army

by Sue Fulton

Former Army Captain Tanya Domi was National Gay & Lesbian Task Force’s (NGLTF) lead in fighting the gay ban in 1992-93.

Tanya Domi enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps in 1974. Her high scores qualified her for specialized training in Military Intelligence, and she was sent to Ft. Devens – site of one of the most infamous witch hunts of the 1970s. Tanya barely even considered herself gay at that point, though she had “kissed a girl” in Basic Training, but when a group of friends went into Boston to a gay bar, she went along. Within 24 hours of their return, all of the women were called into CID, read their rights, and asked “did you go to a gay bar?” Having grown up in a progressive family, she knew enough to contact the local ACLU. Thanks to her, many of the women were provided legal assistance; but she got the reputation of being a “barracks lawyer,” and she suffered as a result.

Over that two-year-period (’74-’75), some sixty to seventy women were discharged from Ft. Devens for being gay. Some women were hounded into turning themselves in, some committed suicide. Tanya survived; but her investigation was dragged out for months, her clearance was downgraded, and despite her extraordinary scores and academic success, she was reassigned… as a cook. Tanya refused to accept it. She fought, calling anyone who would help, including her congressmen, progressives Robert Drinan and Ted Kennedy – and succeeded in getting her orders changed to petroleum chemist. She went through training and was sent to Ft. Bragg and the 82nd Airborne. As the Army was starting to integrate women into the force, she was assigned as one of only six women in the 230-person company providing fuel support to the entire division. Sexual harassment was rampant, and the unit had the highest rate of disciplinary actions in the Army, but she stuck it out and finished her enlistment.

After a year at Central Michigan University, she missed the Army, and ended up joining ROTC. She earned a degree in journalism and was commissioned a 2LT in the Military Police. After a tour at Ft. McLellan, she went to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, and took command of an MP company. During her successful company command, shortly after being selected to teach at West Point, she reported an incident of sexual harassment by a fellow officer. Not long after, CID called her in because they’d received an unsigned, undated letter, alleging a relationship with a female E-7 in another unit. The allegation was false; Tanya wasn’t in a relationship, her time being completely taken up with the demands of her job, but that didn’t matter. She was able to survive the new investigation, but under incredible stress, she developed ulcerative colitis and realized she needed to leave the Army.

Tanya went directly into politics, working for a Hawaiian congressman, then in Washington for a member of the House Armed Services Committee. She finally came out publicly in 1991, and with a few others, started Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Veterans of America (possibly the first ever gay military group in the US). Her work came to the attention of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and she went to work for them in
December 1992.

When President Bill Clinton announced he would lift the military’s gay ban, and the right-wing backlash started in earnest, Tanya led the Campaign for Military Service Bus Tour. The group of GLB vets started in Minneapolis, and traveled through the Midwest and South before ending their tour in the nation’s capital right before the 1993 March on Washington. Tanya also joined a small group of gay vets who testified against the ban in May 1993 before the House Armed Services Committee.

After the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was adopted, Tanya worked on drafting of the original Employment Non-discrimination Act in ’94, and worked with Senator Kennedy and Coretta Scott King before she went abroad in 1994. She worked to guarantee free elections in Nepal, Haiti, the Gambia, then went to Bosnia in ’96 for the State Department, and stayed for four years

Today she lives in New York, a city she loves, with her partner Deborah and golden retriever Bailey, and teaches at Columbia University. She continues to work on behalf of LGBT military servicemembers and vets, blogging for The New Civil Rights Project.

Category: OutHeroes

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  1. Gene F. Barfield says:

    There is no end to the praise due to Tanya Domi as a hero in the movement to end the Ban. She is one of a precious few of our heroes who not only fought at the beginning of the modern battle to end this horrid national act of discrimination; she has remained a constant force for wisdom, reason and justice throughout the entire, decades-long fight.

    I first met Tanya in 1991, when I was President of Gay & Lesbian Veterans of Vermont and she was the congressional liason for the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force in Washington. It was in 1991 when a bare handful of local lgbt military & veterans groups around the country began to network, to organize across the distances between our locales into the first national movement focused on ending the Ban. Tanya, a knowledgable, sensible and politically astute advocate on behalf of all lgbt issues, was THE facilitator who paved the way for the birth of this enduring movement.

    It was she who opened the doors for us to come from around the country, together for the first time under the auspices of the annual conference in DC of the UMass William Joiner Center for Peace, War and Social Consequences, and who introduced us to Dr. Paul Camacho, Director of the Center, on whose gathering we were able to piggyback the first national gathering of our people that year. That gathering is the instance of the organizing of GLBVA (Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Veterans of America). National Officers were selected and local organizations reorganized themselves into GLBVA chapters.

    The first major tactical effort by the movement was to prepare for the upcoming 1993 March on Washington. Once again, Tanya was the person who created the links between the MOW organizing committee and the lgbt military community, resulting in one of our members being appointed MOW National Coordinator for military and veteran participation in the March. Not only did Tanya, making use of her NGLTF position and her extensive personal contacts and knowledge, lay the groundwork for our participation in a cohesive manner, she also even opened her office and her home to those of us from distant places around the nation as a place of resource, haven and rest when we traveled to the national capital for meetings, planning, lobbying, etc.

    Tanya’s presence at NGLTF created a symbiosis that was lacking elsewhere. There was a good deal of controversy back then, between DC-based glbt advocacies and outlying people and groups because many felt that high-visibility DC-based organizations took inappropriate credit for and advantage of local and state-wide efforts for lgbt rights when they contributed nothing to the locales in return. Living in Vermont at the time, I was one of many who was astounded when one such DC-based group claimed to have had a driving role in our success in 1992, in passing what was then the nation’s most comprehensive statewide anti-discriminitation law. Not a one of us in Vermont could recall any instance in which this group offered any assistance at all. The Task Force was always the exception to the tendency of Washington groups to suck all the fund-raising back to their coffers – and programs – leaving local groups stranded and broke in their wake. Peri Jude Radicec and Tanya Domi provided a vision and a constancy of leadership that ensured support for local groups at home and when traveling to DC. In particular, Tanya saw to it that every veteran advocate who went to DC to work ‘our’ issue had administrative and logistical support at Task Force HQ, and was THE person in DC to go to for assistance in lining up meetings with Congressional, Administration and even Pentagon officials. It was, in fact, specifically the work of Tanya Domi that resulted in the historic first-ever meeting of glbt advocates with a member of the President’s Cabinet, when national officers of GLBVA sat down with Herschel Gober, Secretary of Veterans Affairs in 1993.

    I marched in awe with Tanya in the 1992 Washington DC Forth of July Parade, when she headed a marching contingent of lgbt military and veterans. We were amused to know that our presence that day resulted in the first official salute to lgbt veterans by the national military establishment. Military affairs in the nation’s capital are under the authority of the Military District of Washington, whose uniformed representatives were present on the parade reviewing stand that day. I remember two Navy captains in particular, representing the Military District, one of whom turned to leave the stand as the very visible – and publicly announced – contingent of lgbt vets approached the reviewing officials. Tanya immediately saw the intended insult and drew attention to the fact that the National Colors (as borne by our color guard, of course) were about to pass the officials by ordering our contingent to make presentation. This caught the officer who intended to insult us by ignoring our presence in an awkward position: insult us and the Flag by ignoring our passing, or turn, come to attention and render salute as military decorum requires. The offending officer was caught by another officer on the reviewing stand and made to turn and render appropriate honor as we passed.

    Funny, how Tanya always manages to make her point effectively. What a huge loss her discharge was to the Army, and to a nation who needs skill, wisdom and the very same sort of dedication which she has so consistently exemplified. What a huge gain not only to our community, but to the nation which needs her service in the on-going battle for justice.

    God love ya, Tanya. I sure do.

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