EXCLUSIVE: Navy Air Force Inspector General Under Investigation After Dismissing Anti-Gay Harassment Complaint

Ensign Steve Crowston

Ensign Steve Crowston  (Navy Times)

The inspector general of the Naval Air Force Atlantic Fleet is under investigation for the handling—and dismissal—of a Navy ensign’s anti-gay harassment complaint, has learned.

Ensign Steve Crowston said he suffered months of continual anti-gay harassment and sexual discrimination from his fellow and commanding officers with Strike Fighter Squadron 136 at Naval Air Station, Oceana, Va.

The harassment began in August 2009, says Crowston, 36, when his fellow officers called him into a room for a review of call signs, a military moniker that easily identifies a service member. He says his name was written on a whiteboard with a list of call sign recommendations: “Cowboy,” “Gay Boy,” “Fagmeister,” “Cowgirl,” “Romo’s Bitch,” “TO,” “Terrell Owens” and “Redskins.”

Call signs can be used in official military correspondence and in radio calls, and the names often get printed onto clothing and can follow someone throughout their career.

Crowston – who would not disclose his sexual orientation – says his commanding and executive officers were in the room and participated in the group vote, picking “Romo’s Bitch.”

The six-page official complaint, filed in February and obtained by, also includes a slew of additional accusations involving the misuse of government funds and property and other improprieties by the squadron commander and officers.

In May, the Naval Air Force Atlantic IG’s office found Crowston’s sexual harassment allegations unsubstantiated and closed the case.  

Crowston contends that Beverly Bilger, the inspector general charged with investigating his claims of sexual harassment and workplace hostility, was biased by a previous familiarity with the commander named in the complaint.

Crowston – who has filed two separate whistle-blower reprisal complaints with the Defense Department inspector general’s office – said that Bilger admitted to him to having previously worked across the hall from the commander.  He said Bilger relayed personal information about the commander and admitted to contacting him about Crowston’s complaint weeks before the investigation began.

 “I believe the investigating officer was biased to begin with,” Crowston told “She should’ve removed herself.”

On Thursday, the Naval Inspector General – which oversees the Naval Air Force Atlantic IG’s office – told that it has reopened Crowston’s case and launched an investigation into the way the complaint was initially handled.

“The Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet Inspector General completed its investigation into the complainant's original allegations in May 2010," Navy spokesman Lt. Myers Vasquez told "The complainant voiced concerns about the CNAL investigation and the Naval Inspector General decided to re-examine the original case and conduct a preliminary inquiry into the manner in which the original allegations were investigated.”

Sources said Naval Inspector General investigators flew out to U.S.S. Enterprise last week to interview Crowston’s former executive officer and former squadron members.  Investigators have also conducted interviews at Oceana, where Crowston was previously stationed.

When reached by phone at her office, Bilger said she could not comment and referred to the Navy's press office.  

In the following months after the alleged call sign incident, Crowston said, the harassment only got worse. He says he was the subject of anti-gay slurs and continued harassment in person and over e-mail from his commanding officers and from his squadron officers. Crowston said he was the target of what he believes to be numerous instances of reprisal from his commanding officers — the same officers Crowston named in his Navy complaint to the inspector general were charged with conducting his review. It was the worst review Crowston received in his 16 years in the Navy, and he said it was entirely unfounded.

Crowston requested a transfer and in February was relocated to the Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic squadron, also in Oceana. On Thursday, Crowston was suddenly reassigned to Naval Special Warfare Group Two, a Virginia Beach-based Seal team scheduled to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan in the coming months.

Crowston documented these instances of reprisal in two separate whistle-blower complaints he filed with the Department of Defense, the most recent on Aug. 6.

The issue of inappropriate or offensive call signs has reportedly been acknowledged by the Navy’s top leadership when Vice Adm. Tom Kilcline warned commanding offers to keep call signs professional.

Crowston says a friend of his who also served in the Navy committed suicide in August 2009, and in her suicide letter she cited anti-gay harassment similar to what he encountered. Crowston said he was humiliated and offended by the call sign review and asked for an apology from officers responsible for coming up with the “Gay Boy” and “Fagmeister” suggestions.

“There needs to be acknowledgment that this is improper content — there's obviously an issue with call signs — and I’m seeking acknowledgment that this is improper conduct within the aviator community,” Crowston said. “I believe I’m owed an apology for this.”

 “I hope that people that have the courage to step up and know right from wrong and say something,” Crowston said. “I’m standing up for what I feel is right.”