“I am a black man; I am a gay man; I am a queer man; I am a married man. I have a lot of titles, but I am not defined by any one title.”
Senior Master Sgt. Ashley Metcalf, 926th Force Support Squadron sustainment services flight chief, said he celebrates Pride Month because he is proud of being his whole self.
“I spent so much of my life trying to be like everyone else, to be someone else, to hide from the thing that I thought people wouldn’t like,” said Metcalf.
For him the month of June is about more than a social media post, a drag show, a pride parade, or even parties; it’s about a group of Airmen being seen after years of exclusion.
Having served under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, Metcalf said erasing past hurts and creating a culture of inclusion is not an overnight accomplishment.
“There has been no narrative for gay people, actually no, the only narrative was bad,” he said. “This group was excluded for years by law, by regulation, by guidance, and it can be hard for the population to adjust.”
Hiding such a major part of his life for so many years was a lonely and painful road for Metcalf, one where he said he often felt excluded and dehumanized.
There was even a time in his military career when others viewed him simply as, “the gay one.”
“That was problematic and challenging for me, not just because of the fear of losing my job, but because that was the whole of my identity to those people, and I felt like I was relegated to that,” he said.
Metcalf said early in his career he also had to silently bear the weight of a formal investigation on his orientation because someone reported him.
“I wasn’t even out at that point, but because someone saw my mannerisms they felt they needed to investigate me,” Metcalf said. “I felt alone, I felt unsafe and it made everyone else look like an enemy to me.”
Even following the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it took Metcalf three more years to feel secure enough to come out in the military setting and to have what so many take for granted; a family.
“Everything before that was, I was single and no kids,” he said. “That’s not the story that I wanted, but to do this job, my story would have had to stay just that, single and no kids.”
Metcalf now advocates for those who share his titles, but more importantly for him, he advocates for those who don’t.
“For me it takes more courage to step out and advocate for people who you really don’t know their stories, because you have to listen, and that’s just not easy,” he said.
He said he believes true Diversity and Inclusion in the Air Force will come as others step up and advocate for all experiences, not just their own.
“We’re not always thinking about what is valuable to other people and I think that is what creates separation,” he said. “I’m bound to make mistakes, but for me that’s part of what connects me to the people who are trying to connect with me.”
Metcalf said he now shares his story for anyone who may feel different.
“The power of inclusion is to show someone a version of themselves, to let them see something different and allow them to believe that they too can be there,” he said.
To those who say why celebrate the individual Airman, Metcalf said, “What an antiqued idea.”
“It’s not celebrating the individual Airman, it’s celebrating the many titles we all carry as humans and the narratives we bring with us to serve,” he said. “The beauty of connection is being seen as your whole self.”