It wasn’t too long ago that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed and the Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act’s definition of marriage unconstitutional, prompting the Defense Department to provide federal benefits to same-sex couples.
The question many had was if it would affect unit cohesion, morale or good order and discipline. Would military leadership support their gay troops? The answer at Luke Air Force Base was made clear on June 24 when the wing leadership and many Thunderbolts attended the first-ever Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Observance Month social at Club Five Six.
The event began with an excerpt from a presidential proclamation recognizing Pride Month. Then Justin Owen, Phoenix Pride executive director, took the stage.
“This is what I do every day,” Owen said. “I represent the LGBT community in our state, and it gives me chills to be standing here in front of all of you. It’s an honor.”
After Owen explained what Phoenix Pride is about, Owen educated attendees about the history behind the rainbow flag, and went over what each letter means in the acronym “LGBT.” Then he went over some LGBT community terms and what their definitions are before introducing Justin Garcia, an Army National Guard Soldier, and Luisa Valdez, also an Army veteran.
Each shared their coming-out story and their experiences serving in the military before DADT was repealed.
“I encourage you, I urge you and I thank you all for at least being willing to have the conversation,” Valdez said. “That in itself is so vital and important.”
Col. Jeremy Sloane, 56th Fighter Wing vice commander, came to the stage to thank the guest speakers before Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, 56th FW commander, made closing comments.
“When they repealed ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ there were a lot of people who worried it would change our service – and it did change us – for the better,” Pleus said. “We are a better force today because we don’t discriminate. For the first time I hope members of the LGBT community can say to themselves, ‘I take pride in my job, I take pride in my family, I take pride in my friends, but most of all, I take pride in the service that I provide to this country.’ That is a success story.”
Owen couldn’t have been happier with the outcome of the event.
“It’s an absolutely amazing accomplishment,” Owen said. “The federal government and military recognizing our LGBT community is amazingly progressive and helps us to strive for equality all the way around. It was wonderful the number of people who came up to us and said ‘Thank you,’ and the general making the statements he made. Five years ago, I remember thinking something like this wouldn’t be possible and seemed so far away. The progress we’ve made so far and the amount of people who showed up today was amazing.”