Deep on the base in Camp Pendleton, in an isolated area, seaman August Provost was brutally murdered while on duty. August was a black gay sailor who was found dead in a guard shack at 3:30 in the morning. Stories abound. One story says Provost’s aunt reported that the authorities told her that the seaman was “gagged, bound by the hands and feet, shot in the head three times, and then his body burned.”
His family claims that Provost complained about being harassed because of his sexual orientation during the months prior to his death.
The Naval Service Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, has jurisdiction over the murder probe. A spokesman for the Navy claims there is no evidence that Provost’s murder was a hate crime. Because the military does not recognize sexual orientation and the federal government does not define assault on gays as a “hate crime” — for federal investigative purposes, there can be no evidence of a “gay” hate crime.
Another Navy official says Provost never reported any harassment problems. The circumstances surrounding and leading up to Provost’s death may never be thoroughly investigated because the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy keeps military members and other defense department personnel working at military installations from reporting harassment based on sexual orientation for fear of losing their jobs. The policy prevents others who may have information about Provost’s previous sexual harassment from coming forward and reporting events.
“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is a cruel policy that impacts civilians in the military as well as military members. No matter what the investigative outcome, one fact is certain — August Provost had nowhere to turn to officially complain about any sexual harassment before his death because he would have been discharged if he did. He suffered silently. The government’s policy actually cultivates sexual discrimination against gays and lesbians because they cannot complain to halt harassment. It’s time to ask our elected representatives in Congress why we continue such a failed policy.
Tracy Emblem is an attorney and a democratic candidate who is running for U.S. Congress, in California’s 50th District in 2010.