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Spouse Clubs and the Problem With Being Exclusive

Should gay spouses – who cannot be military dependent ID card holders, but who do support their servicmembers the same way anymore military spouse does – be permitted to join on base and post spouses clubs?

That is the questions spouse club leaders are grappling with across the country, a story I detail today over on our Military.com Mothership. Mostly recently the Fort Bragg Officers’ Spouses’ Club denied membership to Ashley Broadway, a same-sex spouse who, although only recently married, has been following her Soldier around creation for 15 years and about 8 PCSes. They have one (going on two) children together. Her Soldier is a Lt. Col. And Ashley wants to join the OSC.

Instead of allowing her, however, the club told her that she cannot join because she is not an active duty dependent ID card holder – a rule not stated in any of their bylaws and only updated to their website after the fact.

And then there is Tanisha Ward. She’s been married to her Airman for about a year, and was denied membership into Little Rock Air Force Base’s spouse club for essentially the same reason – she’s not an ID card holder.

Since the Military.com story’s deadline last night, the Bragg OSC has sent us a statement letting us know that they’ll be reviewing the details of their bylaws at their next board meeting. The Little Rock club has similar plans.

These two women and two clubs represent two perfect examples of a question spouse clubs around the military need to ask themselves – should they continue to be known for their exclusiveness, or is it better to be renowned for your inclusiveness?

The Bragg club, like many OSCs and spouse clubs around the country, is known for clinging to the idea of an exclusive membership, said Tricia Bragg, vice president for the Pope Bragg Spouses Association, a club at Bragg that historically ran out of what was Pope Air Force Base before joint basing. Every year, she said, the Bragg OSC votes to remain an officers’ only club and not open the membership to enlisted personnel. While many clubs across the country have decided to combine membership, the Bragg OSC (and others like it) have not.

When Tricia first joined a spouse club at Bragg, she joined the OSC, she said. But when she felt unwelcomed there and discovered the Pope club, she switched memberships. The Pope club, which is also open to girlfriends and anyone affiliated in any way with a Soldier, welcomed her with open arms, she said.

“(The OSC) is still old Army mindset and they want that old Army mindset to stay in place and that has a lot to do with not opening it up to enlisted and not letting anyone without an ID,” she said. “They are trying to hold onto tradition even though the rest of the Army is changing.”

Spouse clubs – both officer and enlisted – have a long, glorious history of being exclusive on the basis of tradition. Traditions are kept because they feel familiar, safe and honorable. Tradition is why my family always serves this awful dish at Christmas known in our family as “Green Death” even though everyone hates it. Tradition is why my husband can’t, on cold mornings, put his hands his pockets when the uniform of the day doesn’t include gloves.

But some traditions are bad for us. And while Green Death isn’t actually going to kill anyone during our Christmas feast, the clubs’ tradition of exclusivity will eventually be their death.

Because, while we come from a history of exclusion, that concept doesn’t work for us anymore. Our society does not look on exclusion favorably, and we know that life is better when everyone can give each other a hand in the hard times, regardless of color, background, rank or sexual preference.

We must decide whether or not we are going to be inclusive of all or exclusive with some. The clubs – and all military spouses with them – are standing at a crossroads. Are we going to include all, or are we going to be so exclusive that instead of making ourselves feel special we just end up isolated?

About Amy Bushatz

Amy is the managing editor of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is an Associate Editor. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on NPR and in the New York Times. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.