Officer fired over hazing of gay sailor on nuclear submarine

MSNBC | June 25th, 2012

NAVY | The USS Florida

A gay sailor on a Navy nuclear submarine was hazed for months about his sexuality, including being called “Brokeback” in reference to the movie about homosexual cowboys, according to a news report.

The sailor endured the hazing, believing it would get better over time. But it eventually led him to contemplate suicide and he feared he could snap and hurt someone else or himself, he wrote in a note, The Associated Press reported, citing an investigative report it had obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The hazing occurred in 2011 aboard the Kings Bay, Ga.-based USS Florida. The vessel’s top enlisted officer, Master Chief Machinist’s Mate Charles Berry, was fired over the case due to dereliction of duty, the Navy said on March 30. In his role as chief of the boat, Berry had to consult the commanding officer of issues surrounding enlisted sailors.

The sailor who was targeted for abuse was well-liked, and his fellow sailors did not realize the toll that the remarks — including being called a derogatory name for someone who is gay — were having on him, AP reported.

While docked at the Diego Garcia port in the Indian Ocean, another man attempted to rape him and threatened him with a knife, the report said.

Several junior officers involved in the hazing were subject to disciplinary action, such as loss of pay and rank. There was a culture of hazing and sexual harassment on the vessel and not enough knowledge about Navy policies to prevent the abuse, the Navy report said.

“The Navy’s standards for personal behavior are very high and it demands that sailors are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” the Navy said in a March 30 statement. “When individuals fall short of this standard of professionalism and personal behavior, the Navy will take swift and decisive action to stop undesirable behavior, protect victims and hold accountable those who do not meet its standards.” 

Hank Nuwer, who has done decades of research on hazing in schools and the military, said it was “a significant and positive response by the Navy in regard to requiring a chain of command to take responsibility in the event of a substantial hazing allegation.”

However, he said, the Navy might consider moving up its timetable when an allegation of hazing is reported aboard such a vessel since victims were stuck in the close quarters with nowhere to go nor hide.

” … getting a culture of change with regard to Navy hazing is going to take many years, if at all,” he wrote in an email to “Such ‘traditions’ as having Navy people crossing the equator or reaching a certain petty officer rank were winked on by Navy brass so long that completely eradicating hazing stands about as much a small chance as there is eradicating hazing in college fraternity life.”

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