LGBT Pride Month: Silent Service

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- I was 18 years old when I enlisted in the Air Force. I knew I was gay, but I had yet to begin accepting that part of myself. All I cared about was getting out of my hometown and forging my own path. At the time, I was unable to even care about my sexuality.

It was about a year later that my life had finally slowed down a bit and I was able to establish a social life and explore myself as an independent adult. The most difficult part of this self-discovery was the fear of getting caught. The DOD’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)” policy meant that I was allowed to serve as a gay man, but I had to keep my lifestyle a secret. Dating became increasingly more difficult because I was constantly torn between my desire to pursue a personal connection or relationship and avoiding unnecessary risks that could ultimately result in my discharge from the Air Force. Everything I had worked so hard to build would be for nothing.

In 2011, I had recently returned from a deployment. While deployed, I was introduced to an underground social network for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) service members called “OutServe.” It was a secret way for us to connect and communicate and provided a great social outlet for someone who otherwise felt completely alone in their DADT-repressed service. Ultimately, OutServe became one of the instrumental forces advocating for the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in September 2011. I was so proud to have been a part of such a monumental and historic policy change because I no longer had to serve in silence. My service commitment was finally valued, the same as everyone else.

In the nearly six years since the repeal, I have been a strong advocate for equality and open service for the LGBT community. My stance has always been that I strive to be known for professionalism and skill. That my sexual orientation has no bearing on my ability to do my job to the best of my ability. I have been a vessel for change and have tried to make an impact on the perception of and acceptance of LGBT service members. While I know that it is unrealistic to expect equal treatment and acceptance from the masses, it has been nice to see anti-discrimination policies and equal rights and protections offered to my fellow service members.

I have two pieces of advice for anyone reading my story. First, to the leaders at every level in this organization, treat us as equals. Hold us to the same standards and expectations. Cultural competence is always important and leaders should do their part to educate themselves on the best ways to support an LGBT service member. Ultimately though, set a standard that discrimination, hazing, and bullying based on sexual orientation is not tolerated. Second, to my fellow LGBT service members, strive for excellence. Be the best version of yourself and continue to pave the way for the future generations. Make sure they come into an Air Force that is free from discrimination, prejudice, or hatred.