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 the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief 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 the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Steve

    They can still let her in while excluding boyfriends/girlfriends though. As the article says, it only said that members needed to be spouses. Ashley Broadway qualifies under those rules (DOMA doesn’t apply to them). Being exclusive towards non-married or enlisted people is a topic to be discussed certainly, but something of a side issue when it comes to this case specifically.

    Btw, she does have an ID card of sorts. Just not as a dependent. But as a “caregiver” for their child, she has one that at least allows her to get on base.

  • Rquick

    It totally preposterous that this is even a thing. They need to catch up with the times. The hetero-normative couple with 2.5 kids is just not the standard anymore. Clinging to their outdated beliefs and updating their rules to exclude people is going to be the death of the club. And I say good riddance!

    • Just me

      I agree with you on the fact that they are outdated, but I do not think that it will be the death of the club. There are always people that are going to agree with them and that will join because it looks good for their soldiers career to participate. It is a sad day when humans are not treated as equals and only in the miitary is this form of descrimination still supported. The Government makes all these laws for equal rights and yet in the military they do not applyl.

  • Just me

    “Tradition” is a word used to allow things that happen that should not. It’s a nice way of saying “we do not want your kind mixed with us”. Total crap!

  • mel

    First, I believe a spouse is a spouse regardless of sexual orientation. So, in that line of thought, anyone who is an officer’s spouse should be allowed to join the club. Second, I am an enlisted spouse and do not feel slighted that I am not welcome to join. In fact, I have no desire to join. Why is it that people get bent out of shape when they are excluded? Every club, association or organization has guidelines for membership and if you don’t meet the guidelines, you don’t get in. If society is going to operate on a complete “no exclusion” basis then the VFW, the American Medical Association, AA, and so on will all have to open up their doors to everyone who wants to be a part of their “club”. We are becoming way too sensitive and whiny about not getting to do everything we want to do.

  • MrsD

    I find this type of discrimination to be an abomination an should NOT be supported by those of us whose service members stand side-by-side. Really? Is my service member better than yours because he’s in a heterosexual union? Am I better than you because I’m in a heterosexual union? The answer to both is a resounding NO! If I found that an organization in which I was involved discriminated against other service members’ primary source of support, I would be gone in a flash and I sincerely hope others react the same way. If WE withdraw our support from organizations like this, THEY will change or disappear. Either result is acceptable to me. Stepping off my soapbox.

  • Dan

    It’s appalling that B.O. allowed the unnatural, deviant, and debauched into the military at all. What a shame. I knew when Clinton brought in DADT, that it was just a matter of time before we even had this debate. I’m just glad I finished my career before I had to put up with this nonsense. Consider me an old-fashioned, bigoted, red-blooded American who’s not afraid to voice my disgust. I don’t give a rat’s ass. God help us.

    • Emm

      Yes, we’re all glad that you finished your career before the ‘nonsense’ too. We don’t need old-fashioned, bigoted, red-blooded Americans like you in our military!

    • Frances
    • TNB

      What does being gay have to do with your ability to do your job? They don’t come to work to have relations! Do you ask the people you work side by side with their personal business? Most soldiers don’t know if they’re co-workers are gay or not, they only care about someone’s ability to do their job. Are they not human beings? Old fashion American huh? Well i think we all know what that means, you hate everything that has anything to do with diversity and tolerance. You do need God’s help, because the hatred in your heart is not from him. You never know, you could be the one to bring them to Christ through love but you choose to show hatred instead. There is nothing great about hatred and ignorance.

  • StarlaRose

    I really try not to stereotype Officer’s wives, but reading stuff like this only adds to that stereotype. You know the ones; they wear their husband’s rank as if they earned it. The ones who think all Enlisted service member’s wives are uneducated, and SAHMs. Yeah, those type. Which happen to be the type at Bragg’s OSC who are causing this problem. (If you’re a spouse of an Officer try not to be offened)

    Our military as a whole IS changing. Tradition is super duper fantastic. I love military traditions, and how it has shaped our armed forces. But moving on with the tide helps integrate new wives that are now part of this community. The country is changing (for better and worse), and same sex marriage is part of that change.

    They only changed their acceptance of spouses who have active IDs after this, and are now changing their bylaws. What does that tell you? That they are not tolerant of other’s personal choices in life, and do not want to accept a spouse of a service member.

    Clubs like this need to be taken down a notch. Their soap box needs to be kicked away. At the end of the day we ALL love a service member, we all bleed red, and we are all in the same situation. They need to grow up, accept what is not like them, and live their lives. We ALL need support, young, old, gay or straight. Why is it that they, the Fort Bragg OSC, feel like only they can have support?

  • MrsO

    It isn’t all tradition on why the enlisted and officers are separated in the Army. The one reason I’ve heard that has some common sense to it is due to chain of command. What happens when the officer is the one who sends the enlisted to combat and the worse happens. I’ve only saw it happen once where an enlisted spouse and an officer spouse were friends. It got pretty ugly. And they use to be such close friends.

    Truthfully, I don’t know how I could handle it if I was in their situation.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Well truthfully I have many friends who are on the other side of where my husband is. And they are some of my closest friends, too. I firmly believe that this is all a matter of mindset and maturity.

      • MrsO

        But that is the real problem – most people are not like that. The Milgram Experiments show us how far an average person can really sink too.

  • Flyingmonkeydad
  • Interesting that they password protected their website. They messed up and should apologize instead of trying to run behind future scenarios of “looking at changing things”. Great article Amy.

  • jenschwab

    Gay, Straight. Girlfriend/Boyfriend, Spouse. It doesn’t really matter what personal preferences, beliefs or traditions are.

    The point of family programs and clubs is to SUPPORT THOSE WHO SUPPORT SERVICE MEMBERS. Period. I’m not a fan of gay marriage. But that’s not the point. The point is that that soldier’s same-sex partner needs just as much support as anyone else. Her partner is a military member – military life is hard, and she needs a friend and support system. And if the family programs aren’t willing to step in and help and offer support, they should be de-funded.

    And don’t forget Parents, Siblings, Grandparents, etc… Each military member has a unique set of people that support them, and those in leadership must be willing to extend a helping hand to any of them.

    • MrsD

      I wish I could click the thumbs up over and over. Well said, jenschwab!

  • Here at Ft Campbell, there is both an OSC and an ESC. I am intending to join the ESC since I am the spouse of a medic. If my participation in the ESC helps my wife in her military career, cool beans – but, somehow, I don’t think it will. Likewise, I have no clue what it will be like to be the only man in an almost exclusive women’s club. I think I would be even more of an outcast than a lesbian member, there seem to be as many lesbian/gay couples in the military as there are hetero couples. I will find out this week.


    • Holly

      Dave, we had a wonderful military spouse in our spouses club! He served as Treasurer, and was a wonderful asset to our gorup to all of us as when all of our spouses were deployed. I think that is is so important that we make sure we support EVERYONE looking for help..this is not a sorority, it’s is a support group, not a club.

  • W. Moore

    I’m as aghast as Dan about the confusion caused by homosexual partners joining the “O” wives clubs. However, I’m not surprised. I’m a retiree, an old man, and I’ve seen a lot. I served with several men who were known homosexuals. They were expert at their jobs and were respected. They kept their sexual preferences to themselves. In time, it will be realized that allowing openly homosexual behavior in the military was a huge mistake. Anyone who thought they would quietly and unobtrusively integrate into military life was sadly mistaken. Although they have co-opted the civil rights argument to further their agenda, they are actually creating a new set of rights. It will be seen how aggressive and far-reaching that agenda is. The best is yet to come.

  • armywife2008

    While I personally don’t support gay marriage, the decision on whether to included gay spouses is not a personal decision. I can see why they are caught up in the whole “no DoD card” business, but I think when it comes to situations like this you should ALWAYS air on the side of exclusion. If a person (girlfriend, fiance, gay spouse, or otherwise) wants to participate and is asking for support, why not give it to them? Who are you to decide if they deserve it or not? If they feel weird being the only other girlfriend or whatever and decide not to continue coming, let that be their decision. Let’s not get caught up in the “you can’t sit with us at lunch” BS we should have grown out of in high school. As military spouses, we need to focus on our similarities not our differences.

    • TNB

      Exactly! Why should a soldier have to fight a battle on deployment and at home from the very group of people that are suppose to make deployments easier? Hurting someone’s spouse hurts the soldier as well. When FRG tells soldiers they will be there for their families while they’re gone, it shouldn’t be only for hetero soldiers, everyone else is on their own. Really? I may not agree with same sex relationships(that’s why i’m not in one) but what does that have to do with supporting a soldiers’ spouse? Do they go on a gay deployments? Do they sacrifice less? Does being gay affect their ability to do their job correctly? The whole issue is absurd! It’s sad because when we had DADT, those spouses had to go at it alone, now we have a chance to support them and they’re still being told no.

  • Emily

    If you are married to an officer, you should be allowed to join the OSC, plain and simple. These clubs need to progress with the times!

  • Sarah

    The same question could be asked in reference non-married straight couples. I have supported my man through a year (well, 312 days so far) of deployment (IA). I am a strong and fiercely loyal woman, but it has been very hard on me, and I have zero military support resources available to me, because we are not married. I’ve never received one single call from his unit or unit spouses to see how I’m doing, or to invite me to a social event. Should we marry, I will remember my lack of support, and make a conscientious effort to reach out to others in the same situation.

    • Amy_Bushatz

      Sarah since you’re IA I’m guessing you’re Navy? You should check with your servicemember to see if his unit’s family support group can include you. In the Army, at least, the FRG’s primary contact is whoever the Soldier says it is. That’s girlfriend. Mom. Wife. Whoever. If a girlfriend wants to receive emails about post activities, she can have ’em!

      But then I’ve heard that IA deployments aren’t just non-supportive for girlfriends — it’s hard to get support from the unit at ALL, regardless of marital status.

      • Mel

        Not all IA wives are Navy. I’m an IA wife … and I’m Army. And I’m on my third IA deployment at the moment. Additionally, the FRG is run by the commander, as a commander’s program, with the commander’s guidance. If the commander of the unit does not wish to include girlfriends/fiances, then that is his choice.

  • Ken Young

    Exclusive……Hmmmm….why must we not allow any club/group/organization to be exclusive? Is that not being exclusive in and of itself? I was in a squadron that had two wives clubs…officer and enlisted. Both groups supported their sailors but neither wanted to be a member of the other group and neither demanded rights of membership. The officer’s wives were very prim and proper….having “Teas” and little socials. They did things like make posters welcoming the sailors back home after a deployment. But, then again, so did the enlisted wives’ club. Instead of “Teas”, they would have parties…usually for the families to give the families a feeling of belonging while the sailors were gone, Both groups were exclusive, but they also allowed parents of non-married sailors to be members. Bottom line: They made their own bylaws and decided who could and could not be a member. Just because someone is having sex with someone is not a reason to exclude them…..just as it is not a reason to include them. I belong to a Fraternity of men….I do not expect to have women as members…..EVER. It is a FRATERNITY!!! By the same token, I do not expect a SORORITY to allow men to join. It is just that….a SORORITY!!! Why should a woman who is having sex be allowed into a “WIVES” club??? It is just that….a “WIVES” club. If they feel the need to belong to a social group, and they are not accepted into one, then let them form their own. Call it the Military Member Support Group and let them allow whoever they want to join. They can even be exclusive and not allow legally married card carrying spouses into their group. Any reason they can’t have their own special group. Membership may be small, or they may be huge!!!! But to try to force a social group to accept them is just plain wrong!

  • Holly

    StarlaRose…you nailed it ;) Your comments are straight on ;). I am the wife of an officer (you saw I didn’t put officer’s wife) We all need to take a greater look at how we support one another. I was part of a tremendous and special Officer’s Spouses Club as the President. Our C.O.’s wife was like me, and felt that we were ALL in the same “boat”, or ship, as it were. We were facing very tough days as our ship deployed ON 9-11, and what we needed..what we ALL needed was to support one another,..and we did..Officer’s spouses, Enlisted Spouses, each and everyone of us came together. We sent boxes upon boxes, we supported one another through some very difficult days, we made calendars for the Enlisted Mess and The Ward Room, we had our half way party TOGETHER and our Final Fling! We, together, were an incredible force of military SPOUSES supporting one another at every turn of the deployment! I agree as well, that Amy has EVERY RIGHT to the support within the military community. SHE IS one of US, and for Fort Bragg OSC to say she is not is a slap in the face to the very meaning of “support group”…perhaps what they need is a lesson in SUPPORT, perhaps a guest speaker at the next meeting ? ;) From one military spouse to another…thanks, I loved your comment!

  • Not an ID holder

    If you’re not an ID holder, then stop getting overly sensitive about it.

  • subsailor

    Let em get married coupled spouses whatever..Alternative couples need to have the option of experience the same crap that “traditional”couples experience on base and whilst deployed.I have neighbors that practice all sorts of S&M and leather stuff after dark in base housing..Who cares..Let em be!! Like the Israeli IDF..If they will fight like that-ignore the under the sheets stuff!