Honoring LGBT service during Pride Month

Before the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, it was a bit ironic that Pride Month fell so soon after Memorial Day, because many members of the LGBT community who had much to be proud of - those who were serving our country - were unable to do so, out of fear that they'd be kicked out of the military.  This month, the LGBT community and its allies should take time to honor those lesbian, gay and bisexual servicemembers who served in silence, and all of our proud transgender men and women who were - and are still - forced to do so.

Sheri Hattan did not identify as gay during her time serving in the military under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", the law that restricted LGB people from serving openly in the military and allowed discharges based on sexual orientation. It wasn’t just the fear of the way the military handled LGB issues but the fear of just simply being gay that kept Hattan from discovering her true identity while serving.

Hattan became so buried in attempts to appear, and be, straight she ended up marrying a man. In an interview with GLAAD Hattan says, “we both knew and we both didn’t want to say anything.” The hardest experience Hattan had being gay and being in the military was learning that a close friend had been put out because she was a lesbian. Hattan didn’t speak up or defend her friend even though it hurt her not to. “I was in the same situation and it just would have ended with us both being put out,” she says, “I felt like such a coward.” Watching her friend be removed from service becasue of her sexual orientation pushed Hattan deeper into the closet.

Today, Sheri is able to express who she is, serving as the Vice President of the Colorado chapter of the LGBT employee resource group LEAGUE at AT&T which is encouraging people, through their 'Live Proud' campaign, to share their stories about the moments when they became who they really are.  Hattan tells current and future LGB military members, “if you are strong enough and true enough in yourself try to educate other people who are ignorant.”

Malia Green served from 2000 to 2007, and also was not out during her time in the service. When she left, she became involved with the non-profit organization The Mission Continues, which aims to give veterans the opportunity to still serve and lead their country. Malia said that after she left the military she "still feld the need to help other people" and joined The Mission Continues because "it taps into the desire to serve your country."

Malia, who identifies as bisexual, earned a fellowship through The Mission Continues to work with the Center for Excellence in School Counseling and leadership (CESCaL) to implement curriculum for students, specifically LGBT students, which gives them the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary for them to advocate for themselves in every aspect of their lives.

"The Mission Continues" would also be an appropriate title for where the community is now in regard to equality in the military.  Transgender men and women still cannot serve openly, although the military has taken some small steps recently (such as changing the gender marker on Navy veteran Autumn Sandeen's military documents) towards recognizing that trans people are, and have always been, a proud part of our nation's military.

And although the end of DADT meant that LGBT servicemembers could no longer be kicked out for being who they are, that doesn't mean that they're treated equally. Malia pointed to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as a big roadblock to equality: "When servicemembers who are legally married can't have those marriages recognized, you have a whole host of benefits being denied to the partners of the men and women of the military, and that needs to change."

 

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