Marvin Carter: Officer and a Philanthropist
With Veterans Day coming up Nov. 11, the nation takes some time this month to honor the veterans of the U.S. armed forces. One of them is Marvin Carter, though he’s still waiting for the honor - or at least the benefits.
Nearly three decades ago, Carter, 60, was discharged from the Marine Corps for being gay. It was the sort of discharge that cut Carter off from the investment he’d made in the military between 1972 and 1985. In short, the Pentagon discharged Carter with not so much as a thank you, but with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and no access to Veterans Health Administration medical services to treat it.
Rather than stress from being a closeted Marine - or the stress of surviving three military plane crashes - Carter and the professionals treating him suspect his PTSD is rooted in a particularly nerve-racking military tactic.
’’We flew covert ops and we would get shot at on a regular basis, especially by the North Koreans and Yemenis. They were always the worst,’’ recalls Carter, who speaks not with any gung-ho bluster, but with calm reserve. ’’Our evasive technique was called a ’dead drop.’ We were flying at 35,000 feet. When they would start to shoot - I was the mission commander - I would get in position. The pilot would get his fingers on the engine. We would turn all the engines off. When we go to a thousand feet, the pilot would turn on the engines. It was a very common evasive technique, but the g-forces on you were incredible. [My doctor] really thinks that doing that on a weekly basis for two years probably took a tremendous toll on my brain.’’
What happened in 1984 took a tremendous toll on Maj. Carter’s career. Working in Guantanamo Bay, he was confronted by an investigator after his name was spotted on a gay-related mailing list. Carter, a father of two and already separated from his wife, confirmed the investigator’s accusation. By 1985, Carter’s discharge was complete.
With the help of friends, he began putting his career back together, first accepting a position as president of a business college. Eventually, he opened up a companion service in Washington, which is where he found that there were plenty of others who were in need of help, suffering trauma of their own.
’’I saw a lot of people in need, a lot of people struggling,’’ Carter says of that since-closed companion service. ’’It was any range of things. Drugs, alcohol.... Having had many friends who are transgender, having counseled them, listened to their struggles in life, a lot of them for years turned to the work I was in - not because they wanted to, but because they’d get fired. ’I don’t know what else to do,’ kind of thing. I just don’t like discrimination in any form.’’