You might not know it, but there’s a role for the U.S. Space Force in Afghanistan.
It could well be one of the many topics Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback, director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for Space Force, is briefed on each morning when she comes into her office at the Pentagon.
Lauderback, speaking last week with the Washington Blade, said that speaks to the role of the newly minted service as primarily a “space-enabling capability.”
“You can’t do anything with your iPhone as an example, with your computer, with the GPS in your car without those space-enabling capabilities,” Lauderback said. “And so that truly is our role in Afghanistan, to support the United States contingent that is there today, and that’s through our GPS capabilities or communications capabilities.”
Lauderback assumed the role as head of the office overseeing intelligence for Space Force last year shortly after the previous administration created it. With a record of intelligence-gathering roles in her three decades of serving in the Air Force, the sister service to Space Force, Lauderback is a natural fit for the crucial position in the new service.
Still technically serving in the Air Force, Lauderback said she intends to leave the role next summer for a Guardian (the term bestowed to service members in the Space Force), and was chosen for the current role because she was a senior intelligence officer at the U.S. Space Command. Lauderback, nonetheless, said she was eager to take on those duties for a new service because she found the work “fascinating.”
“There is a lot of activity that is happening on orbit, and it’s not all good activity, right?” she said. “There are threats that present themselves almost on a daily basis. And so we were very busy, one, standing up to command at that time but then doing operational missions on a daily basis to compete with other near-peer competitors out there as well as to mitigate areas where we were in trouble from a threat perspective.”
One example Lauderback identified as a recent achievement came last year when a Russian satellite got very close to a U.S. satellite, and Gen. John Raymond, now commanding officer of U.S. Space Force, was able to push out into the media that the United States was concerned it was a Russian weapons system. The incident, Lauderback said, demonstrated U.S. capability to “call out the bad behavior and unprofessional behavior we thought of Russia.”
For an openly gay woman like Lauderback, the role as head of intelligence for a U.S. service holds special significance. Such a position would have been out of reach for an openly gay person in years past, when more LGBTQ people were closeted and the pervasive view was employing them in intelligence roles would be a national security threat if they were blackmailed.
Lauderback, who served when the military asked applicants whether or not they were homosexual and barred those who responded “yes,” recognizes the importance of an openly gay woman now heading up an entire office of intelligence for a U.S. military service.
“It’s really very significant that the fact that I can be out means that nobody can hold this over my head and I can serve openly and be the best intelligence officer that I could possibly be,” she said.
But it took a while to get there. Lauderback graduated from college in 1993, when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became the law of the land, and has had assignments in the military since that time as she continued to pursue advanced degrees. Under that law, Lauderback had to keep quiet about being a lesbian or risk being discharged.
“Certainly, when I first came out — and I was really enjoying my job, and I wanted to make the Air Force a career — but every day it was a concern, and absolutely made me untruthful at times, which is so embarrassing to say and humiliating at this point,” Lauderback said. “I had to lie at times. I was still hidden as a gay member in the service, but I trudged through that.”
Lauderback said during the years under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” she became “less and less paranoid” and was able to find a friend at every base where she was stationed that she could trust with the truth about her sexual orientation. Those friends, she said, supported her on base and when she went on deployment.
Things changed in September 2011. After former President Obama signed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, the U.S. military certified it was ready to allow openly gay people in its ranks. The long ban was over and Lauderback was no longer forced to keep being gay a secret.
“I, like many others I’m sure, wept a little bit,” she said. “We had the conversations with friends about how different this was going to be, and it was very different. Immediately I felt the weight off my shoulders, immediately I knew that I had recourse if I felt that I was going to be discriminated against at any point in time, I felt that I knew I could go and make a complaint about things.”
Since that time, Lauderback married her spouse, Brenda Hall. The two have been happily married for years, Lauderback said.
But nearly 10 years since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted, and shortly after transgender service members were allowed to begin service after President Biden reversed the previous administration’s ban, Lauderback said issues for LGBTQ service members remain and many gay service members are still afraid to come out.
For that reason, Lauderback in March helped set up the LGBTQ Initiatives Team for the Air Force and Space Force, one of the barrier-analysis working groups ordered by senior leadership. Five months later, Lauderback said the task force continues to have conversations with leadership about policies, such as wording and terminology, that make people feel unwelcome in service.
“This barrier-analysis working group is really kind of grassroots,” Lauderback said. “While there are a few of us that are of higher rank on the team, it is mostly made up of folks that are much younger, have very different experiences than we do. And so, they are uncovering what are those barriers, those unconscious biases that folks have … and identifying those areas that we can start knocking out.”
One example of a change Lauderback said the team would “love to see” is the use of pronouns in some of the signature blocks in communications from service members.
“It is well known and well practiced outside of the military in the public sphere, but within the government, I don’t think anybody’s actually brought it up to the senior leadership,” Lauderback said. “If you could use a pronoun, and especially if it’s for transgender members, it could be for women, it could be for somebody who doesn’t have a Westernized name, it was really nice to be able to say, you know, in my signature block ‘she, her, hers.’”
Lauderback said her team is working through that change and thinks “we’ll be successful at some point.”
Meanwhile, Lauderback continues to wear her main hat as head of intelligence for Space Force, for which she manages the delivery of intelligence to the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of space operations and ensures analysts are adhering to the framework for rules in gathering intelligence.
“There’s just a lot of two steps forward, one step back type of potential, where you need to have facility space or you need to have — if it’s IT equipment and things like that,” she said. “And you have to hire people. So, we’re still making all of that happen in our directorate and across the entire enterprise, but I think we’re in a really good position, and certainly for the Space Force as it continues to mature, continues to grow.”
Space is made up of, well, mostly empty space, as any scientist will tell you. However, that adage is becoming incrementally less true as entrepreneurs, such as Elon Musk, continue to launch private satellites into orbit in numbers that could surpass the nearly 2,000 belonging to the United States. Starlink, the SpaceX program that manages its satellites, has 300 satellites in orbit — and has signaled plans for an eventual goal to deploy a total of 30,000 or more.
Lauderback, asked if that was a threat or should be welcomed, downplayed any concern of private companies surpassing U.S. government presence in space, saying the entrepreneurial endeavors would lower overall costs for launching satellites.
“It’s very much something to be welcomed, and we see it as a positive,” Lauderback said. “And I know Gen. Raymond as the CSO has remarked on this a number of times. What happens when you have commercial entities like this one, they’re able to operate sometimes at a much faster pace than we can in the government, so we want to be able to take advantage of that and then secondly, they truly drive the price point down for us.”
Launching astronauts into space remains an exciting event, including the prospect of sending the next human spaceflight to the Moon, and the first-ever landing on Mars. Lauderback, however, said she couldn’t comment directly because those projects are part of NASA’s domain.
“I would say, from my perspective as an intelligence officer,” Lauderback said, “when there is more exploration in space, as there has been on every other domain — the air domain or land domain or the maritime domain — the Department of Defense needs to be prepared to protect and defend our capabilities … so as an intelligence officer that’s really part of my job is to watch what it is that other countries might be doing or what their desires and their intentions are.”
While transporting human beings to other worlds continues to be an aspiration, questions have arisen recently about whether other worlds are sending living beings to Earth amid new interest in government reports on UFOs. U.S. intelligence over the summer revealed 140 sightings by American military pilots between 2004 and 2021 — and the Pentagon has no idea what they’re seeing.
Lauderback, asked what she makes of the findings given her position as head of space intelligence, declined to comment directly on what she makes of the phenomena, citing an ongoing study in other military services, although she quibbled with the use of the term “UFOs” to describe them.
“I would say it’s not UFOs, but it’s unidentified aerial phenomena,” Lauderback said. “So I key in on the term aerial in that case. I’ll leave it to the folks that are operating in the air domain and we’re working in the space domain, so I think that’s about all that I would be able to tell you.”
Luke Schleusener, president of Out of National Security, an affinity group for LGBTQ staffers in national security, said the absence of any backlash to an out lesbian in Lauderback’s position “tells us how far much of the country has come in the decade since the repeal of DADT.”
“She’ll bring her whole self to work,” Schleusener said. “At a time of ‘resurgent great power competition,’ having diverse teams and diverse leaders will make the Space Force more effective. It’s also a matter of our government and our military best serving the nation when our public servants and service members reflect those they’re sworn to serve, at all levels.”
Minnesota middle school principal ousted for displaying Pride flag
Critics ramped up attacks on the career educator- some compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students
MARSHALL, Mn. — A former middle school principal in Minnesota who lost her job after displaying a Pride flag alleges in a federal lawsuit that the school system retaliated against her for supporting LGBTQ+ students.
Mary Kay Thomas filed the complaint against Marshall Public Schools in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota Tuesday after anti-LGBTQ+ middle school staff, parents, students and local clergy began efforts to remove the Pride flag that she put up in her middle school’s cafeteria in 2020 as a part of an inclusiveness effort.
According to the lawsuit, Thomas has been a teacher and principal for more than three decades with a long track record of success. She held the principal position at Marshall Middle School for 15 years, receiving contract renewals, pay raises and praise for her performance.
“But when Thomas decided to display an LGBTQ Pride Flag in the school cafeteria in early 2020, everything changed,” reads the complaint.
Thomas refused to take down the Pride flag as critics ramped up attacks on the career educator. The lawsuit alleges that some even compared her to the Devil after publicly associating with LGBTQ+ people and students.
“Sadly, the Marshall School District has sided with these critics,” her lawyers wrote.
What followed was an “escalating series of adverse actions” taken by the Marshall School District, said the lawsuit. She claims that the school targeted her by threatening her employment, conducting a “bad-faith” investigation, putting her on indefinite involuntary leave, suspending her without pay and putting a notice of deficiency in her personnel file.
The complaint says that the deficiencies were “false, distorted, and/or related to Thomas’s association with members of the LGBTQ community.”
Thomas also claims that the District attempted to get her to quit by removing her as principal and assigning her to a “demeaning ‘special projects’ position.”
At one point, Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams, who is named as a defendant in the case, told Thomas he could “make this all go away” if she stepped down, according to the complaint.
The school removed the Pride flag in August 2021 after settling a lawsuit brought by residents who opposed it.
The Blade reached out to Williams for comment but did not receive a response. However, according to the Marshall Independent, Williams did release a statement on the matter.
“Marshall Public Schools is committed to the education of every child and has strong policies and practices in place against discrimination, against both students and staff members. The school district is committed to creating a respectful, inclusive, and safe learning and working environment for students, staff and our families,” Williams said. “While the school cannot comment about the specific allegations made in the complaint, the school district strongly denies any allegation of discriminatory conduct. The school will vigorously defend itself against these allegations.”
In addition, Thomas alleges that she resisted unwanted sexual advancements from school board member Bill Swope. She claims she told Williams about the sexual harassment.
As of Thursday, the school has not filed a response, and no hearing has been scheduled yet.
Thomas is seeking a jury trial, damages and reinstatement as principal of Marshall Middle School.
Matthew Shepard honored at National Cathedral
Daylong services held to mark his 45th birthday
The parents of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in a 1998 hate crime that drew international attention to anti-LGBTQ violence, were among those attending a day of religious services commemorating Shepard’s 45th birthday on Wednesday at the Washington National Cathedral.
The services, which the Cathedral organized in partnership with the Matthew Shepard Foundation, included tributes to Shepard at the Cathedral’s St. Joseph’s Chapel, where his remains were interred in a ceremony in 2018.
“Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are,” the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, said at the time of Shepard’s interment.
“In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place,” Hollerith said.
The first of the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard began at 7 a.m. with prayers, scripture readings, and music led by the Cathedral’s Rev. Canon Rosemarie Logan Duncan. The service was live streamed on YouTube.
An online, all-day service was also held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Cathedral officials said was intended to “connect people around the world to honor Shepard and the LGBTQ community and pray for a more just world.”
The Shepard services concluded with a 5:30 p.m. in-person remembrance of Shepard in the Cathedral’s Nave, its main worship space. Among those attending were Shepard’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, who have said they created the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue their son’s support for equality for all.
A statement released by the Cathedral says a bronze plaque honoring Matthew Shepard was installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel to mark his final resting place at the time Shepard was interred there in 2018.
Following the Cathedral’s Dec. 1 services for Shepard, the Adams Morgan gay bar Pitchers hosted a reception for Dennis and Judy Shepard, according to Pitchers’ owner David Perruzza.
One of the two men charged with Shepard’s murder, Russell Henderson, pleaded guilty to the charge after prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty for him. The second of the two men charged, Aaron McKinney, was convicted of the murder following a lengthy jury trial.
Prosecutors said McKinney repeatedly and fatally struck Shepard in the head with the barrel of a handgun after he and Henderson tied Shepard to a wooden fence in a remote field outside Laramie, Wy., on Oct. 6, 1998. Police and prosecutors presented evidence at McKinney’s trial that McKinney and Henderson met Shepard at a bar in Laramie on that day and lured him into their car, where they drove him to the field where authorities said McKinney fatally assaulted him.
Shepard died six days later at a hospital in Ft. Collins, Colo., where he was taken after being found unconscious while still tied to the fence.
In a dramatic courtroom scene following the jury’s guilty verdict for McKinney, Dennis Shepard urged the judge to spare McKinney’s life by not handing down a death sentence. He said that out of compassion and in honor of his son’s life, McKinney should be allowed to live. The judge sentenced McKinney to two consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the same sentence given to Henderson.
‘Very familiar’: Mark Glaze’s story brings into focus mental health for gay men
Experts see common story as LGBTQ people enter middle age
The death by suicide at age 51 of Mark Glaze, a gun reform advocate who was close to many in D.C.’s LGBTQ community, is striking a chord with observers who see his struggles with mental health and alcoholism as reflective of issues facing many gay men as they enter middle age.
Glaze’s story resonates even though much of the attention on mental health issues in the LGBTQ community is devoted to LGBTQ youth going through the coming out process and transgender people who face disproportionate violence and discrimination within the LGBTQ community in addition to a growing focus on LGBTQ seniors entering later stages of life.
Randy Pumphrey, senior director of behavioral health for the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Health, said Glaze’s story was “very familiar” as a tale of mental health issues facing gay men in the middle stage of life.
“You’re talking about a gay-identified man who is in his 50s, somebody who has struggled with alcohol misuse — or maybe abuse or dependence— and also depression,” Pumphrey said. “I think that there has always been a higher incidence of suicide for men in general in their middle age 50 and above, but this increases when you’re talking about gay men, and also if you’re talking about gay men who suffer with mental health issues, or substance use disorder issues.”
Several sources close to Glaze said his death did not come as a surprise. His family has been open about his death by suicide last month while he was in jail after allegedly fleeing the scene of a car accident in Pennsylvania and a long history of depression and alcoholism.
Pumphrey said Glaze’s situation coping with mental health issues as well as the consequences for his role in the accident, were reflective of someone who might “begin to perceive that this is an issue that they can’t get away from, or the consequences they can’t get away from exposure and that can lead somebody to a fatal outcome.”
“My experience is that there have been gay men that I have worked with over the years — particularly in their 50s and early 60s — it’s taken them a long time to recognize the severity of the problem, whether it’s their depression or their substance abuse, and then they find themselves in a very precarious situation because of shame, and so they may not necessarily seek help even though they need help.”
A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men’s Health found the prevalence of depression among gay men is three times higher than the general adult population, which means they are a subgroup at high risk for suicide.
The study found “scant research exists about gay men’s health beyond sexual health issues,” most often with HIV, which means issues related to depression and suicidality “are poorly understood.”
“Gay men’s health has often been defined by sexual practices, and poorly understood are the intersections of gay men’s physical and mental health with social determinants of health including ethnicity, locale, education level and socioeconomic status,” the study says.
The study acknowledged being male itself is one factor incorporated in addressing mental health issues in this subgroup because “regardless of sexual orientation, men can be reluctant to seek help for mental health problems.” Another study quoted in the report found 23 percent, less than one quarter of gay men, who attempted suicide sought mental health or medical treatment.
In addition to mental health issues facing gay men in Glaze’s age group, others saw his situation as a common story in the culture of Washington, which is notorious for celebrating and prioritizing success with little tolerance for personal setbacks.
In the case of Glaze, who had sparred on Fox News with Tucker Carlson as executive director of Everytown for Gun Safety, the threat of exposure and threat to his career may have seemed overwhelmingly daunting.
Steven Fisher, who knew Glaze since the 1990s and worked with him at the D.C.-based Raben Group, said one factor that contributed to Glaze’s condition was “he could only see upward in terms of his career trajectory.”
“We saw that in him and it had me very concerned because I felt like he might end up in a place that wasn’t good once he left Everytown, and that’s tragically and sadly what happened,” Fisher said. “I think he just had trouble adjusting to what is usually a roller coaster ride, I think, in people’s careers, especially in the D.C. world.”
Along with Glaze, Fisher has worked on gun issues for Everytown, which has been a client of his since 2015 after he worked for them in 2012 after the Newtown shooting.
Compounding the challenges that Glaze faced is a culture among many gay men focused on sexuality, which prioritizes youth and appearance and presents problems as those qualities start fading when men enter middle age.
Fisher said another factor in Glaze’s condition was social media, pointing out public perception about his identity was important to him.
“If you look at his social media — I think this is instructive to the rest of us — a lot of the comments are about how Mark was so good looking and he was charming, and he was so smart and so funny,” Fisher said. “That’s all true, and that’s why he was very appealing to many people, but those qualities don’t really tell you everything about a person. In fact, one could argue they’re superficial in a way, and people have to remember people are more complicated than what you see on social media.”
One issue for gay men facing mental health issues as they enter middle age is they don’t have the same resources as those available to LGBTQ youth, who have been more of a focus in terms of mental health issues in the LGBTQ community.
Among the leading organizations for LGBTQ youth is the Trevor Project, which has resources and a hotline for LGBTQ youth facing mental health crises.
Kevin Wong, vice president of communications for the Trevor Project, said his organization would be receptive to an older LGBTQ person who calls the hotline, but ultimately would refer that person elsewhere.
“If an LGBTQ person above the age of 25 reaches out to The Trevor Project’s crisis services for support and expresses suicidal thoughts, our counselors will listen, actively and with empathy, and work with them to de-escalate and form a safety plan, like any other contact,” Wong said. “However, our organization has remained youth-centric since its founding and our volunteer crisis counselors are specifically trained with younger LGBTQ people in mind.”
Much attention is focused on the coming out process for LGBTQ people, a time that can upend close relationships — as well as reaffirm them — and a process more commonly associated with youth.
Ilan Meyer, senior scholar of public policy at the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, said data is scant about suicide rates among LGBTQ people, but information on suicide attempts shows they tend to be at a heightened rate for LGBTQ people as they go through the coming out process.
“What we do know is that there is a connection with the coming out period at whatever age coming out happens,” Meyer said. “And so, we see a proximity to coming out whatever age that happened, we see the suicide attempts proceeding and after that.”
Suicide attempts, Meyer said, are much higher for LGBTQ people than the population at large. The self-reported rate of suicide attempts in the U.S. population as a whole, Meyer said, is 2.4 percent, but that figure changes to 20 to 30 percent among LGBTQ youth, which about to 10 to 15 times greater.
Black and Latino people, Meyer said, have been less likely to make suicide attempts in their lifetimes, although he added that may be changing in recent years.
With the primary focus on mental health issues elsewhere in the LGBTQ community, Glaze’s death raises questions about whether sufficient resources are available to people in his demographic, or whether individuals are willing to seek out care options that are available.
Meyer said whether the resources for suicidal ideologies among LGBTQ people are sufficient and what more could be done “is the the million-dollar question.”
“It’s definitely not determined by just mental health,” Meyer said. “So many people have depression, but they don’t attempt suicide. And so, then the difficult thing is to find the right moment to intervene and what that intervention should be.”
Meyer said much of the focus on mental health is on a person’s last moments before making a suicide attempt, such as making suicide hotlines readily available, but some of the stressors he sees “are more chronic, ongoing things related to homophobia and the kind of experience that LGBT people have as they come to terms to realize their sexual identity.”
Pumphrey said another factor in mental health issues not to be underestimated for almost two years now is “dealing with the COVID and loneliness epidemic,” which appears to have no immediate end in sight with the emergence of the Omnicron variant.
“There was always this piece of sometimes the experience of being in your 50s and early 60s…we talk about the invisibility factor,” Pumphrey said. “But when there’s just this sense of being disconnected from community, especially in the early days of the pandemic, and kind of being locked down, I think that just raised the risk.”
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