The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Gay psychiatrist files suit against military

John Hensala has a unique response to the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy: "Don't pay."

Before beginning active duty, Hensala informed the Air Force that he was gay — something military officials say he did to avoid serving. Hensala denies this, saying he planned to use his psychiatric training to help Air Force families adjust to frequent moves.

After his honorable discharge in 1997, the military demanded that Hensala reimburse more than $70,000 paid toward his medical education. He has filed a lawsuit seeking the right to refuse payment. The case is pending.

Hensala, who attended Our Savior Lutheran Church, Lake Oswego, Ore., as a youth, attributes his decisions about speaking out and the suit to prayer and "a lot of soul-searching." He now worships at St. Francis Lutheran, a San Francisco church expelled from the ELCA in 1995 for its ordination of noncelibate gay clergy.

Hiding his homosexuality, he says, "didn't feel authentic or honest ... [and] I don't think that's what God would want." Hensala finds support from St. Francis and Metropolitan Community Church, in prayers offered by parishioners and in his faith, which he says has "influenced my growth as a human being."


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