Anson Klaber was moving up the ranks of the U.S. Coast Guard until he was medically discharged due to migraine headaches in 1999.
“It was a shock to me when I was retired,” recalls the 43-year-old veteran, who identifies as gay. “I was planning on making the military my career. I had just become a petty officer third class and was leading a team. But then, suddenly, I was back at my mother’s home, unemployed.”
Klaber, a Louisville native, struggled to adjust to civilian life in his hometown. His troubles, similar to those that many veterans face, included challenges associated with re-entering the workforce and a battle with drug and alcohol addiction.
After living with his mother and working at his father’s furniture business for seven years, Klaber became a Realtor—a job that took him first to Tampa and then to Houston, where he now lives.
“What we do to help vets is groundbreaking. The LSVA is working to become the most LGBTQ-friendly veteran’s organization in the nation.”
In Space City, Klaber found community in the Lone Star Veterans Association (LSVA), a nonprofit that provides members with social activities and aims to strengthen their careers and families. Klaber is 14 years sober and serves as a community leader in LSVA’s LGBTQ Affinity Group that kicked off in 2017, in part due to his efforts.
“I struggled in Kentucky because there weren’t any resources like the LSVA,” Klaber says. “What we do to help vets is groundbreaking. The LSVA is working to become the most LGBTQ-friendly veteran’s organization in the nation.”
In July, the LSVA launched its latest LGBTQ outreach program in partnership with the Montrose Center. The program offers counseling, case management, and links to services for LGBTQ veterans and their families.
The Montrose Center is now a one-stop shop for LGBTQ veterans. Those who visit the center have access to recovery coaches, therapists, and a personalized outpatient program designed to fit their needs.
LGBTQ folks sign up for military service at three to five times the rate of their non-LGBTQ peers. An estimated one million gay and lesbian Americans are veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. And about 150,000 transgender individuals have served in the U.S. armed forces, according to The Williams Institute.
Despite these numbers, there is an overwhelming lack of resources for LGBTQ veterans, according to Kennedy Loftin, the Montrose Center’s chief development officer.
“LGBTQ folks have always faced discrimination in the military, even after ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was repealed in 2010,” Loftin says. “We’ve had eight years to change this culture, but being anti-LGBTQ still plays a role in some places. Many veterans who received a dishonorable discharge because they were LGBTQ have never been able to get assistance from the VA.”
Unlike most federally funded programs, the Montrose Center’s veterans program does not look at discharge status to determine eligibility for services.
The partnership between the Montrose Center and the LSVA is funded by the Texas Veterans + Family Alliance, a grant program administered by the State of Texas. The grant funding covers the cost of a case manager and counseling services for veterans and their family members whose incomes are at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level.
Elibeth Andrade, the wife of a veteran, was hired in March 2018 as the case manager for the program. She and LGBTQ veterans who serve as community leaders have been trained to provide culturally competent resources to clients.
In 2017, LSVA president Kevin Doffing and Klaber toured the Montrose Center with Loftin. Doffing realized that his organization lacked an affinity group for LGBTQ veterans.
“While on the tour, I saw how many services the Montrose Center offered that veterans needed,” Doffing says. “Both communities face high levels of mental-health issues, substance abuse, and PTSD. I wondered, ‘If both groups face these issues, what happens when the two populations overlap?’ I knew we had to do something about this.”
The LSVA’s first LGBTQ gathering, a happy hour in April 2017 at JR’s Bar and Grill, drew more than 100 people—its highest attendance to date for a social event.
The LSVA LGBT Affinity Group Social became a recurring event that is now held at Guava Lamp the first Friday of every month. Doffing says those who have attended the social include veterans who were closeted for most of their lives.
“For the most part, the military has been conservative, right-wing, and unaccepting,” Doffing says. “However, when we started our socials, I knew we had hit a home run. A man who could never come out got in uniform, came to Guava Lamp, and told me he was himself for the first time in 70 years.”
In addition to the monthly happy hour, the LSVA now hosts LGBTQ picnics. And on September 29, the Executive and Professional Association of Houston (EPAH) will host Houston’s first LGBTQ Military Ball benefitting the LSVA.
Klaber served in the military for four years and was stationed in New York City and Paloma, California, while “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was in place. While in Paloma, Klaber says he worked alongside several other LGBTQ folks who were closeted.
“Nobody was out. We just knew who was LGBTQ amongst ourselves,” Klaber says. “We had to repress ourselves unless we were off base. Being gay was very frowned upon. I knew I’d lose my livelihood if I told.”
After moving to Houston, Klaber met Doffing, an Army veteran who identifies as straight, through the Leadership Houston group.
Over the last year, Klaber, Doffing, and other LSVA members have worked together to create a community for LGBTQ veterans. Klaber hopes that his story inspires other LGBTQ veterans to participate in the LSVA’s all-inclusive events.
“The LSVA got me out of the house and introduced me to so many amazing people,” Klaber says. “Our goal is to find veterans in need and point them in the right direction. Veterans are proud people who sometimes need a push. I want to provide that push.”
What: EPAH Military Ball and Fundraiser
When: 7 p.m. on September 29
Where: Le Meridien, 1121 Walker Street
This article appears in the September 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.