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Justice for All: Top LGBT Lawyer Awarded at NAVCENT

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian Morales, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs Office | June 21, 2017

MANAMA, Bahrain – A U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) lawyer was honored this month as one of the best LGBT lawyers under 40 nationwide by the National LGBT Bar Association.

Lt. Jennifer Johnson, born and raised in Saudi Arabia, was named for the association’s class of 2017. This recognition caps a journey for Johnson, who has faced challenges because of her sexual orientation.

“It’s an honor to be nominated and recognized,” said Johnson. “Just being nominated made me feel pretty good but it’s important to me to be out in the workplace and out in the community because it hasn’t always been so easy for LGBT service members and for the LGBT community.”

The National LGBT Bar Association is the largest association of legal professionals in the U.S. supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and an affiliate of the American Bar Association. The association established the award to recognize legal professionals under the age of 40 who distinguished themselves in their field and advocated LGBT equality.

Nominated by her former commanding officer, Capt. Keith S. Gibel, at Region Legal Service Office Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia, Johnson manages NAVCENT’s military justice portfolio. She tracks the military justice and foreign criminal jurisdiction cases involving Sailors or Marines in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) area of responsibility (AOR). Johnson’s duties include briefing the NAVCENT Commander on all sexual assault allegations in the AOR, ensuring all proper procedures for processing the allegations are followed.

“Although she has only been with [NAVCENT] since April, she’s already become irreplaceable,” said Capt. Peter Koebler, NAVCENT force judge advocate. “She has been performing as a seasoned member of the staff since the day she first reported for duty.”

Johnson has been advocating for equal rights with the LGBT Bar Association since starting law school at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day College of Law in 2008. Upon graduating in 2010, she served as the Los Angeles LGBT Bar Association’s youngest president. Yet, she said, despite these accomplishments, she was denied many job opportunities due to her sexual orientation. Following the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the policy that prohibited openly gay individuals from serving in the military, she immediately applied to the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

Initially, she was apprehensive about joining the sea service. “I was nervous what some reactions would be to the repeal,” she said “but it’s important to me to serve openly as a positive example of a member of the LGBT community, so that one day people aren’t concerned with a Sailor’s sexual orientation and instead realize that people are just people.  We’re all trying to serve, raise families, and live our lives.”

The award also recognizes Johnson’s efforts in assisting with transgender awareness training at Naval Support Activity Bahrain and the Region Legal Service Office Bahrain in 2016. The training educates service members about the acceptance of transgender individuals into the military and discusses the ways a transgender member can communicate confidentially with their commanding officer about these issues.

Johnson continues to make herself available for any straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members that have questions, need advice or a mentor. She said she gets asked, “What’s it like being in the military; have you faced any discrimination; have you felt any push back because of gender identification?” She acknowledges that the journey is not complete, but is hopeful.

“I appreciate and encourage questions and interests received from members of all ranks, because education is the strongest opponent to bigotry,” Johnson added.

The U.S. Navy recognizes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month throughout June. Initially established as “Gay and Lesbian Month” by Presidential Proclamation in 2000, LGBT Pride Month recognizes the accomplishments of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The Navy is committed to recruiting and retaining top talent regardless of race, class, sex or background.

U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The expanse is comprised of 20 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.