Miriam Ben-Shalom in 2018
|Born||May 3, 1948|
|Years of service|
|Unit||84th Training Division, 5091st Reception Battalion|
|Battles/wars||War of Attrition|
Miriam Ben-Shalom (Hebrew: מרים בן שלום, born May 3, 1948) is an American educator, activist and former Staff Sergeant in the United States Army. After being discharged from the military for homosexuality in 1976, she successfully challenged her discharge in court and returned to military service in 1987—the first openly gay person to be reinstated after being discharged under the military's policy excluding homosexuals from military service. She served until 1990 when the Army succeeded in terminating her service after prolonged judicial proceedings.
Ben-Shalom was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, one of six children in a Roman Catholic family, and grew up in the surrounding area of Big Bend and East Troy. After her mother died in an automobile accident when she was six, she was largely raised by her father, a World War II veteran and owner of a local chain of convenience stores. Graduating from high school in 1967, she married for a short time and had a daughter. The next year, she converted to Judaism and, at the age of 19, left with her daughter for a five-year residence in Israel, where she took up Israeli citizenship, remarried, changed her name to her current name and served in the Israeli Army during the War of Attrition as the driver of an armored personnel carrier. In 1971, she returned to the United States, divorced and entered the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, majoring in creative writing and graduating with a B.A. and M.A.
Service, discharges and activism
In 1974, Ben-Shalom enlisted in the United States army reserve and joined the 84th Training Division. In 1975, she read the cover story of Time magazine's interview with Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam War Air Force veteran who decided to come out of the closet as a homosexual and was fighting his discharge. Although Ben-Shalom was out to her commander, the commander made no move to dismiss her until, after graduating from drill sergeant's school, she appeared on local television and outed herself as lesbian. Her commander filed discharge proceedings against her, and she was honorably discharged in 1976.
Ben-Shalom took the Army to court to overturn her dismissal, and in 1980 Judge Terence Evans of the U.S. District Court in Chicago ruled that her dismissal violated the First, Fifth and Ninth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution based upon testimony that she was only dismissed because of her statement to the press. The Army refused to comply with the ruling, and the case dragged on until 1987 when the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago confirmed the previous ruling and forced the Army to comply with the ruling by threatening contempt of court fines. Ben-Shalom reenlisted in September 1988, but the Army appealed the decision and finally won an August 1989 decision from Judge Harlington Wood, Jr. that ruled against Ben-Shalom by ruling her statement to the press as an admission of guilt in violating military policy. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear her appeal of the case on February 26, 1990, and Ben-Shalom's military career ended.
Ben-Shalom returned to Waukesha and was one of six LGBT veterans who founded the Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans of America (GLBVA), today known as the American Veterans for Equal Rights.
She continued to participate in a number of protests against the military policy excluding homosexuals from service and in 1993 protested the military's new "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy by joining David Mixner in chaining herself to the White House fence. After a long period of work as a teacher, she returned to direct action and was arrested on November 15, 2010, in uniform after chaining herself to the White House fence along with other participants, including Dan Choi.
She is a member of the New England Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Veterans and of the California Alexander Hamilton American Legion Post 448. A resident of Milwaukee with her life partner, Karen Weiss also serves as a full-time tenured instructor of English with the Milwaukee Area Technical College.
Opposition to transgender activism
Miriam Ben-Shalom has become increasingly involved in speaking out against transgender activism that, in her opinion, "erase" women; and gender identity legislations that, according to Ben-Shalom, pose a threat to "Title IX, sex-segregated spaces, and scholarships for females". In 2016, she added her signature to the Change.org petition Statement: L is out of GBT, as well as a statement for her endorsement:
I am damned sick and tired of being told that I cannot say mother, vagina, period, ovaries, and so many other words. I am tired of watching the so-called trans community try to extinguish us and extinct us. I am enraged that young strong women, often called Butches, are being told they should "transition and be men" as opposed to being strong, non-gender conforming/stereotypical women. I am tired of dealing with men in dresses who say they are women but who employ male power trips and threaten violence if Lesbians do not do it "their way". I am beyond sick and tired of watching these trans folk destroy events important to Lesbian culture, such as the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and destroy Lesbian culture by insisting that men in dresses can be Lesbians. I am tired of being told I _must sleep_ with a trans woman if that person wishes, and if I do not, I am a TERF. I do not want to shower next to a swinging dick which says the dick is a Lady wand or a Lady peenie. I am tired of being told that I am all [sic ] women are really not important at all. No National org in the GBT community has ever stood up for Lesbian rights, Lesbian challengers of discrimination (as well I know first hand!!) and Lesbian protections. Time for us to leave and let you chew on yourselves while we go and build our safe spaces and our lives.
Ben-Shalom testified before the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs on March 7, 2017, in support of Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender people to use the bathroom or changing facility of the sex assigned to them at birth rather than of their gender identity.
She has also availed herself of the support offered by conservative media outlets and organizations. In 2017, she co-founded Hands Across the Aisle, an alliance formed by women from different political spectrums to oppose what the coalition describes as "gender identity ideology". That same year, she appeared in the "Biology Isn't Bigotry: Why Sex Matters in the Age of Gender Identity" panel sponsored by The Heritage Foundation. In February 2018, she was a speaker at the "Gender and Sex Conference" in Madrid, sponsored by HazteOir/CitizenGo. In an essay for The Federalist, she spoke out against bathroom laws that permit transwomen to use "opposite-sex" restrooms and locker rooms, describing them as "a matter of unspeakable oppression against females".
In a 2019 interview for PJ Media, Ben-Shalom denounced equating the "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) military policy against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals that was rescinded in 2011, with the ban on transgender military service that went into effect on April 12, 2019.
Milwaukee Pride Parade controversy
In 2016, she was invited to be the Grand Marshall of the Milwaukee Pride Parade. Shortly after the invitation was made, the Board of Directors of the non-profit organization behind the parade became aware of comments about transgender women by Ben-Shalom on her Facebook page that were considered to be transphobic. They rescinded the invitation in an email letter to Ben-Shalom that she made public in a Facebook post:
The Bylaws of the Milwaukee Pride Parade include our mission statement, "To provide an outlet to the citizens of South Eastern Wisconsin in which GLBT individuals and groups can participate in a parade to show their pride." We are an inclusive organization that seeks to be free of intolerance, and seeks to promote the equality of all members of the community. As such, we feel that we cannot have a Grand Marshal who has publically [sic] and repeatedly denigrated transwomen.
- "Miriam Ben-Shalom Collection". Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress.
- Steve Estes (May 14, 2007). Ask & tell: gay and lesbian veterans speak out. Univ of North Carolina Press. pp. 190–191.
- "Frontlines: Military Gays Fight Back". Mother Jones. 1 (4): 5–6. June 1976. ISSN 0362-8841.
- Karen Ocamb (November 22, 2010). "Former Sgt. Miriam Ben-Shalom on the Personal Impact of Serving in Silence". LGBTPOV.
- Malcolm Lazin (August 20, 2015). "Op-ed: Here Are the 31 Icons of 2015's Gay History Month". Advocate.com. Retrieved 2015-08-21.
- O'Neil, Tyler (July 16, 2018). "First Lesbian Reinstated to U.S. Army Comes Out Against Transgender 'Erasure of Women'". PJ Media. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
- O'Neil, Tyler (October 22, 2018). "Radical Feminists Eviscerate New York Times for Warning That Trump Would 'Erase' Transgender People". PJ Media. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
- Statement: L is out of GBT (April 2, 2016). Change.org. Retrieved 18 May 2019. @ https://www.change.org/p/hrc-statement-l-is-out-of-gbt. (The URL for Change.org is blocked due to spamming and cannot be linked with a citation template.)
- Ben-Shalom, Miriam (2016). Statement: L is out of GBT. Change.org. p. Reasons for signing. Retrieved 18 May 2019. @ https://www.change.org/p/hrc-statement-l-is-out-of-gbt/c/427374827. (The URL for Change.org is blocked due to spamming and cannot be linked with a citation template.)
- "Bill: SB6". Texas Legislature Online. 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2019.
- "Witness List: State Affairs SB6". Texas Legislature Online. March 7, 2017.
- "Voices from Hands Across the Aisle". Hands Across the Aisle. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- Jones, Andrea; Wood, Melody (March 3, 2017). "Feminists and Conservatives Link Arms to Confront Transgender Ideology". The Daily Signal. The Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- Anderson, Ryan T. (2018). When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. New York: Encounter Books. p. 207. ISBN 978-1594039621.
- on YouTube. CitizenGo. February 23, 2018
- 1st International Conference on Sex, Gender, and Education #GenderAndSex (February 2018). "Madrid Declaration for Understanding, Respect and Freedom" (PDF). Femina Europa. Retrieved 17 April 2019.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Ben-Shalom, Miriam (July 11, 2018). "Trans Bathrooms Are All About Discrimination—Against Women And Children". The Federalist. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- O'Neil, Tyler (April 16, 2019). "Military Transgender Ban Is Nothing Like 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' Lesbian Vet Says". PJ Media. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- Brook, Tom Vanden (April 12, 2019). "Pentagon transgender troop policy takes effect, what to know". USA Today. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- Polcyn, Bryan; Davis, Stephen (June 8, 2016). "Transgender issues are driving a wedge in LGBT community, says activist ousted from Pride Parade". WITI. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
- Milwaukee Pride Parade (May 3, 2016). "Re: Former Grand Marshal Miriam Ben-Shalom". Facebook. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
- Miriam Ben-Shalom (April 27, 2016). "For your reading enjoyemnt [sic] (not sarcasm): I am no longer Milwaukee Pride's Grand Marshal for their parade". Facebook. Retrieved 9 June 2016.