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LGBT Month: Personal Courage

FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Personal Courage. It’s one of the seven Army values and one that I’ve aligned several aspects of my life with…except one.

When I was asked to write about my experience as a gay service-member, it took me hours to come up with something until I realized, I didn’t really have any. I’ve spent most of my life denying my sexuality and even made an attempt at “normalcy” in college by dating girls. So, when I joined the Army I had regressed to old habits. The Army was about camaraderie. Team work. Brotherhood. I didn’t want that one aspect of my life to be the thing that broke that sense of community. I didn’t want to be an outcast. I wanted to fit in, to belong, to be normal.

That desire to be “normal,” is what drove my reasoning to keep this part of me hidden. Even as the military had moved passed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, I still didn’t believe the world around me, especially the Army, could be as progressive and accepting. But over the course of my four and some years in the service, I’ve come to realize that my fear was largely unfounded.

During my short time with the Army I’ve met some truly amazing individuals, many of whom have become life-long friends. And these people – these soldiers – proved just how irrational my fear was. A lot of them found sexual orientation as a non-factor. Not that it didn’t matter or that it wasn’t important, but in the overall scheme of things, who you loved and who you slept with wasn’t a big deal. What mattered to these soldiers, my team members, was how much they could trust me. How much they could depend on me to have their backs, especially in a combat zone. This realization greatly lessened my apprehension to be more open about this part of my life. Day after duty day, I meet more and more soldiers who prove to me that this one aspect of my life should not and does not define my entire being.

Of course, not everyone is one-hundred percent accepting. Crude jokes and side comments that ridicule the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community are still present in the Army, and in some places and units, that ignorance and intolerance probably runs rampant. But, the people that I’ve met give me hope that this “new” Army is headed in the right direction. Every day I am given another reason why I need to live my truth. To fight the cowardice that tells me that fitting in is normal.

If my time in the Army has taught me anything, it’s that a person’s sexuality does not define normalcy. Normal in the Army is doing the right thing. Normal is being trustworthy. Normal is proving to the soldier to your left and your right that you will always have their back. Normal is having the personal courage to face your fears and be yourself – your entire self – even if you know at times people may not accept you for it.

My name is Emmanuel Williams, and I am a Sergeant in the United States Army. I’m gay and I’m proud. And because of the Army, every day I’m waking up and finding the courage to embrace that.