The last decade has given way to great change in the military as it marches toward the crumbling walls of discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service members.
“The true genius of America is that America can change,” said President Barack Obama. “Change happens because of ordinary people, countless unsung heroes of our American story who stand up and demand it. The story of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans is no different.”
Since 2012, the Department of Defense has followed suit with the nation in recognizing the plight of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals with LGBT Pride Month. These men and women have battled for their personal rights while fighting for the freedoms of others–braving criticism, judgement and prejudice just to live a life of integrity, a life with rights that many take for granted.
The most significant governmental step toward LGBT equality came in 2010 with the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.
“The hardest part was hearing the judgement and prejudice against what people think we are like,” said Tech Sgt. Casandra McIntyre, an aerospace security specialist with the 162nd Wing Security Forces Squadron.
McIntyre has been a member of the wing for 16 years enduring many hardships and criticisms about her personal life throughout her career. During a routine Security Forces training exercise, a fellow female law enforcement officer refused to partner with McIntyre because there were rumors she was gay.
“It’s just rude,” said McIntyre.
While deployed, prior to the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, the discrimination was even more rampant. McIntyre frequently overheard negative commentary regarding gay service members, discussions about segregation and the decline of the military if LGBT men and women were allowed to join.
“We’ve been working with everyone this entire time, but now because there’s awareness, things have changed,” said McIntyre. “It should be a matter of your work ethic, not who you go home to. If you’re doing your job, what’s the difference?”
McIntyre’s dedication to her country and service are evident.
“I find a sense of pride in my job,” said McIntyre. “It’s stressful, but rewarding.”
Master Sgt. Zearlina Dodson, NCO in charge of training for the Maintenance Squadron, is also a dedicated wing member who faces challenges about her personal life.
“My work ethic and ability to do my job well have nothing to do with who I’m married to,” said Dodson. “There is nothing about my personal life that impacts my ability to do my job to the best of my ability.”
Dodson finds joy in watching wing members’ growth throughout their career, and has lofty goals both for her and her work center.
“I really enjoy what I do,” said Dodson. “People have told me I was helpful in getting them to where they are in their career.”
There is more for Dodson to do in her current job, but she holds aspirations of becoming the base training manager to help educate others in their training responsibilities.
LGBT service members have faithfully served their country with professionalism and courage just like their fellow service members, putting their country before themselves, said Leon Panetta, former director of the CIA. The repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell enabled these service members to be proud of their service while being proud of who they are, in and out of uniform.
Both McIntyre and Dodson are married because Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell was repealed, and gay marriage was legalized in many states.
“The repeal was a stepping stone to states legalizing gay marriage,” said Dodson. “Once the federal government changed its position, the states followed suit.”
Although the repeal didn’t have a major impact on Dodson professionally, it allowed her to marry her partner of seven years. In April, Dodson and her wife welcomed their second son into their family.
“I could go on for hours about how much I love having my two boys,” she said.
The love she has for her family is clear, and so is her appreciation of having additional options to support them following the lift on gay rights limitations for federal employees.
“My focus in life is taking care of my two kids, and that has nothing to do with being gay or not,” said Dodson.
McIntyre is thankful to no longer experience scrutiny about her relationships or her phone calls, and to not hear judgmental whispers over who brings her lunch. She now has the freedom to say her wife’s name in public, openly care for her when she is ill and receive benefits like all military married couples.
“It’s nice to know I won’t lose my job for being me,” said McIntyre.
As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month, we remember the men and women who inspired a ripple of change in the mindset of society simply by staying true to who they are. LGBT Pride Month is not about celebrating sexual orientation, it is about raising awareness for LGBT equality.
“I’m glad the military is spreading awareness that people should be more tolerant of others, even if they don’t agree with the situation,” said McIntyre.
Diversity is one of our greatest strengths, and the pursuit of equality is fundamental to the American story, said Panetta. During Pride month, and every month, let’s celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all.