Stephen Eagle Funk, a 21-year-old gay Marine reservist, who is a conscientious objector opposed to the United States invasion in Iraq, is serving a six month sentence in a military prison at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina for unauthorized absence from his post.
His mother, Gloria Pacis, 50, plans to travel this weekend to visit Stephen, her first time seeing her son since his court martial proceeding in New Orleans in September.
A Filipina American, Pacis espouses viewpoints that are, to say the least, far to the left of the political center. Tuesday night she spoke at the International Action Center, a community-based meeting place in rented space on Manhattan’s 14th Street––far from her native Seattle, but not so far from her days protesting the former Marcos regime in the Philippines.
The International Action Center, where one is more likely to see a gay freedom flag and a portrait of Che Guevara than the stars and stripes, is not far from the Path Train station, convenient for Pacis’ commute from New Jersey where she makes signs in a Home Depot for $15 an hour. Her day job approximates Pacis’ passion for painting. One of her paintings now hangs in a gallery in Newark.
Watching her speak in front of a packed room of war resisters, one gets the sense that despite her self-effacement and modesty, Pacis is unabashed in her opposition to the war in Iraq and to American foreign policy in general.
In her brief, direct statement, which she read, Pacis said that she hoped that fellow war resisters “are reclaiming their voice in this democracy” and “we have here a family and tonight, one of its members is behind bars.”
In interviews over the course of several days, Pacis made it clear that as a single mother she raised her three children to question authority and explore challenges in life. She claimed that she knew of Stephen’s homosexuality long before he came out to her, which was only a month before he faced down authorities at his base in California when he was told to report for training.
Pacis recalled her son’s coming out, consternation etching her face. “Stephen said, ‘Hey, Mom, sorry to tell you’—And I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me sooner, Steve?’ I mean, I’m an artist, I have gay friends.”
Stephen Funk’s journey from a bright, academically advanced student at an alternative high school in Seattle, to donning military fatigues seems implausible at first glance.
“Stephen was in the accelerated program at school. It was go-at-your-own pace,” Pacis said. “It was a school for freer thinkers, more independent thinkers.”
One of Stephen’s high school friends, Sam, was gay. Pacis said that Sam called her mom and came out to her before he came out to his own parents.
A slight woman, with long black hair and expressive eyes, Pacis relates events in the present tense, as if everything that has happened is immediate and very personal. Her brow furrows in vexation when she repeatedly asks, more to herself than to anyone else, why Stephen did not confide his sexual orientation to her.
“Maybe I talked about an art dealer friend of mine, Irene, in a derogatory way, who was a lesbian. But why didn’t he tell me?”
Pacis learned of Stephen’s decision to join the Marines in May 2002, when Funk’s sister Catie, “snitched on him and I said, ‘What the hell? Put him on the phone.’”
Funk was adamant that his mother respect his enlistment.
“He said, ‘If you’re going to be that way, I’ll never talk to you again.’ I backed off and said, ‘I still love you, but if you want to leave the service, I’ll support you.’”
That was ten months before American troops crossed the Kuwaiti border and invaded Iraq.
To hear Pacis tell it, Funk’s decision to join the military came as a total shock. After all, she remembers how a three-year-old Stephen would wear one of his sisters’ dresses and refuse to take it off.
“So, I would just let him wear it,” she said.
In high school, the issue of boys wearing dresses came up again.
“Some kid wore a dress at Halloween or something and they hassled him, so Steve organized a group of boys who all wore dresses and that was that,” she recalled.
Pacis describes the act as an indication of her son’s leadership qualities, rather than a sign of adolescent rebellion. Stephen graduated with honors and got a scholarship to college. However, the adjustment from moving from a nurturing home life to a big campus did not go well. After several months, Stephen dropped out of the University of Southern California, which Pacis referred to as “the University of Spoiled Children.”
“He said he didn’t fit in with all those rich kids and he wanted to transfer to Berkeley,” his mother said.
Funk moved back to Seattle until he could establish California residency, in order to qualify for lower tuition, and transfer.
Pacis welcomed him back.
“It was fun. We have a lot of fun as a family,” said Pacis.
She spoke intently about how all four of them––Maria, now 26, married and living in Ireland, Stephen, and Catie, now 20—had always enjoyed each other’s company. “We watch videos and make Catie laugh and depending on how hard she ran to pee was how good the joke was.”
Eventually, Stephen moved to Pleasant Hill outside San Francisco to live with Catie. He worked in a pet store.
“I would ask him when he was going back to school. I heard from the tone of his voice that he was drifting.”
There were other worries as well.
“I assumed he knew about condoms,” Pacis said, a touch defensively. “When he was living at Pleasant Hill he was at some kind of party and Catie snitched about it and I was worried about HIV.”
When questioned further, Pacis, looked down with exasperation and then said, “Steve revealed to Catie that he had had unsafe sex.”
During this period of time, while the nation coped with the devastating terrorist attacks of Septmeber 11, Stephen had contact with a military recruiter and joined the Marine Reserves.
Within a year, the nation would be at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Stephen would be facing the possibility of being called up to serve in combat, something that was perhaps unthinkable to a young man who previously had protested American trade policy outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles the summer of 2000. Catie was arrested at that event.
“‘Oh, this is fine timing,’ I told her. Then she said she wouldn’t accept the bail money. ‘I have to stay in jail in solidarity with my sisters,’ she said so she did. Six days,” recalled Pacis bemusedly.
The last time the family spent time together was in a New Orleans hotel the night before Stephen surrendered to military authorities to begin serving his six month sentence.
During his court martial, evidence emerged, according to Pacis, that she was an unfit mother and that Stephen came from a broken home. Sequestered from the proceedings since she was a witness, Pacis expressed frustration with not being able to fully participate in Stephen’s defense.
She does not deny that Stephen was affected early on by things that happened at home.
Pacis met Bob Funk, Stephen’s father, in a Seattle boarding house in the 80s. A social worker by training, Bob also sold drugs out of the apartment where the young couple lived. According to Pacis, Bob was an alcoholic, and a violent man when he felt his authority was being challenged.
“We were together about nine or ten years,” Pacis said. “When Stephen was three, among many things that happened, his father shoved him and Stephen got a bloody nose and I figured, well, before it gets any worse, I’m leaving.”
Pacis fled with the three children and went to live with her parents, Filipino immigrants who were strict Roman Catholics.
Bob Funk continued to call and harass Gloria until one night he decided to abduct Stephen and Catie.
“He had them in a car and he was bigger and scary and one of his friends was driving,” she recalled. “I got in and he took us back to the house he was at.”
According to Pacis, while Stephen and Catie waited downstairs, Bob Funk raped and beat her in an upstairs bedroom, only stopping when a drug customer persisted on pounding on the door and Bob left.
“I called a taxi and the cops. I figured I’d get in with whoever showed up first,” she said.
Her children in tow, Gloria was sitting in the back seat of the taxi when Bob Funk reappeared. Only the arrival of the police prevented him from pulling her from the taxi and into the street.
“He got a month for that. And they mandated him to anger management classes before he could see the kids again,” she said.
“Stephen was always protective of me,” Pacis said, shifting the topic back to her son. “He never left messages for me if men called. He was very judgmental.” Consternation flashed again and Pacis looked down as if her thoughts nagged her. “Maybe he thought I would be the same way if he told me he was gay.”
Pacis claimed that only one of her letters to Stephen has made it through to him since he started serving his time in military prison and she has only received one of his. An anti-war activist in North Carolina who visits Stephen on a regular basis has corroborated that Stephen does not receive his mother’s mail.
“The first thing he said in his letter was I miss you. I know it’s mainly boring for him in there,” Stephen’s mother said.
Pacis is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s foreign policy and the ongoing conflict in Iraq. She is unapologetic about advising Stephen that once combat broke out to get out of the military.
“Say anything to get out of this. Say you’re gay, say that you won’t kill anyone,” she recalls telling him.
She also seeks to press her son’s cause. She regrets not pushing hard enough for Stephen to be released immediately from confinement, rather than serving his sentence until February.
However, Pacis is also grateful that Stephen avoided going to war.
“Even though it is a gross injustice, look at what is happening to these other guys,” she said.