By Tech. Sgt. Daniel Martinez
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs
LGBT Pride Month
Col. Michael Miller, 2nd Bomb Wing commander, speaks during Barksdale's LGBT Pride Month event, June 22, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Martinez)
Col. Michael Miller, 2nd Bomb Wing commander, and Airman 1st Class Wenona Welch, 2nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, cut a cake during Barksdale's LGBT Pride Month observance event, June 22, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Martinez)
(Editor’s note: Service is the ultimate demonstration of a person’s belief in an ideal. Military service, then, is a representation of our military members’ dedication to something greater than themselves – the freedoms provided by our Constitution. Some of our military family chose to serve despite additional barriers they personally face. That choice is a demonstration of courage. Those who dedicate their life to service deserve respect, regardless of their external features or personal attributes. During this month, consider that we are all more alike than we are different. We have all chosen to serve and sacrifice for our country. Let us join together with pride in all who serve.)
At Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. one tombstone stands out amongst the others by its inscription: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” The gravesite belongs to Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and the first openly gay Airman to challenge the Department of Defense’s former anti-LGBT policies in the 1970’s.
Today, LGBT servicemembers can openly serve because of icons like Matlovich. Similar to how the Tuskegee Airmen’s heroics were instrumental to military desegregation prior to the start of the civil rights movement, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010 was another landmark moment in the military that showed value to those who proudly served regardless of their orientation. For Barksdale’s LGBT community, this year’s LGBT Pride Month theme reflects that notion.
“The theme is actually the same theme as DOD – ‘Pride in all who serve,’” said Lt. Col. Mickey Jordan, 2nd Communications Squadron commander. “We’ve adopted that theme here and we have three objectives for observing pride on Barksdale: to observe, educate and connect.”
According to Jordan, observing LGBT pride and providing education on the subject are two critical aspects of this year’s theme, but he believes connecting LGBT Airmen to their peers is the most important.
“We want to connect Airmen who are stationed here who don’t know anybody else,” Jordan said. “We also want to help servicemembers with dependents who identify as LGBT that want to connect with other people who they can talk to about it.”
To help build connections, members of the Barksdale Pride group scheduled open forums called “Coffee and Connect” to facilitate discussions, answer questions and meet new people. Reflecting on what military service meant for some prior to the repeal of DADT, Jordan remembers how providing an open forum was not even possible at one point.
“Serving during ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ everyone felt like they had a trapdoor underneath them. The policy was you weren’t allowed to be asked about it and you weren’t allowed to tell anyone overtly, but if somebody found evidence then you were a goner,” Jordan said.
Jordan recalls one time when he received a call at work about information that was shared about him. “At that moment I thought, ‘well, my career is done, everything I’ve worked for since I was 14 years old – it’s all done.’”
Jordan managed to continue serving, but others weren’t so lucky. During his assignment at the Pentagon prior to the repeal, LGBT servicemembers and civilian personnel had to meet in secret in order to support each other while avoiding the possibility of being discovered and discharged as a result.
“That was the way we lived. Some people were separated and discharged, others weren’t,” Jordan said. “When you were deployed or hanging out with other military people, you couldn’t reveal who your family was. That was probably the most painful part. It’s one thing to talk about work, but when you can’t talk to another Airman about your family, it’s like this whole other side of you is just cut off.”
Nowadays, service members can share who their families are if they choose to and there are resources readily available for added support.
“In the area there’s a group called PACE (People Acting for Change and Equality),” Jordan said. “They have a really cool program called PACE Youth. It’s a great network to connect kids all the way up from high school who think they might be LGBT.”
According to PACE President Steven Galbraith, PACE is a “nonpartisan organization that works to advance equality in Northwest Louisiana so that members of the LGBTQ community can lead open, honest, responsible, and safe lives at home and in the workplace."
PACE Youth, or PACEY, is a social group aimed toward young adults, Galbraith said. “PACEY’s mission is to provide a safe and affirming environment for peer-to-peer social interaction and support,” he added.
Additional resources include OutServe-SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network), and the Barksdale Pride Facebook support group, Jordan added.
For some servicemembers who identify within the LGBT community who may sometimes struggle with how they fit into the military, or even society in general, Jordan said valuing who they are is important.
“If you look in the mirror you have to know that your life is valuable and you’re tremendously valued by your team,” Jordan said. “Less than half of one percent of all Americans ever put the uniform on and serve, so the fact that you put the uniform on to begin with is something to be very proud of.”
For more information on PACE visit www.pacelouisiana.org, for OutServe-SLDN visit www.outserve-sldn.org, and for more information on the Barksdale Pride Facebook support group visit http://www.barksdale.af.mil/About/Clubs/. For more information on PACEY, contact Guy Robison at PACEYoungAdult@gmail.com.