Pentagon Hosts First-Ever Pride Event: a reflection from a D.O.D. Dyke
--WRITTEN BY M. CATHERINE BROWN--
A year ago I was accepted into a student hire program at the Pentagon. When you are hired here as a student, there are two questions you will be asked by every person you are introduced to whether it’s another civilian, a soldier, the director of your organization, or a general: "Where do you study?" "What do you study?"
I cannot recall the number of times I had to repeat the phrases: “I go to George Mason University. I’m a foreign languages major with a double concentration in French and Spanish. Very nice to meet you, sir/ma’am.”
When you work with people who have a couple decades on you, they’re keen to give you career advice: “Go CIA or FBI with your language skills."
"Join the Army."
"Go to the State Department.”
They’re also keen to know if you’re dating. It used to be when I was asked this question, I would just say, “No, sir,” or, “No, ma’am,” and explain it away with the fact that during the summer I am very busy with work and during the school year I am swamped with my course load. After I had been employed for several weeks and built rapport with my co-workers and superiors I realized that for the most part my orientation would not cause people to think differently of me or have consequences for my employment status. Yet, despite all this I hesitated to tell the truth.
Why? Because at the time I was an employee for an Army that was still maintaining the culture expressed by DADT. For a period of time I very seriously considered joining the military. Working in the Pentagon and for the organization I am a part of was inspiring to me. I talked to currently serving and retired co-workers, a captain at my university, and my parents about it.
My father told me I’d be a great soldier, and encouraged me to do it.
My mother asked me two questions:
“Do you want to get married someday?”
“Do you want a family someday?”
I would like to say I was thrilled when DADT was repealed. In reality, my reaction was, “It’s about damn time. This has gone on long enough.”
However, continuing my employment here made me quickly realize that this is only a step in the process. The spouses of soldiers in same sex marriages are not receiving the care, benefits and support that spouses in heterosexual relationships do. These soldiers have fallen into a limbo when it comes to things such as housing and Tricare in which they are considered in the same category as single soldiers.
I was happy about the repeal. But I wanted more.
Today I had the great honor and privilege to attend the first ever Pentagon Pride Event.
When the seats in the auditorium filled, people stood along the sides. The recording of the event was linked to soldiers in Afghanistan, eager to participate. Video messages from President Obama and Leon Panetta were played, followed by a speech from Jeh Johnson, a man universally described as integral in the process of the repeal. But there were two things said by members of the Panel Discussion after Mr. Johnson’s speech that truly had an impact on me:
“We must be visible,” said Gordon Tanner, Principal Deputy General Counsel and a retired service member. He has been with his husband for nine years, married for two of them.
“It’s not about sex. It’s about life,” said Sue Fulton, a member of the Board of Visitors at West Point and the class of ’80—the first women’s class at the academy, also married to her partner.
I began working in this building last summer. I was here for a short period over the holiday season before my spring semester started. When I returned for work, many people told me they were glad to have me back because of the work I do and the contributions I make to our operation. I have a great relationship with my co-workers and superiors, who are all wonderful people and dedicated servants of the government and the country.
But it was not until a year had gone by that I had been here, a part of this organization, that I tacked a picture of myself with my girlfriend (who I started dating just a month and half before my entry date last summer) to my cubicle wall. I have had people ask who that girl in the photo with me is. I casually reply, “That’s my girlfriend, Frances.” It sometimes take a moment for this piece of information to sink in, but once it does, it’s business as usual. No discomfort, no awkward moments, no weird questions. So far.
I am going on leave for a week in July. Without hesitation, I have told several of my co-workers that I will be out of the office because my girlfriend is visiting and we’re headed to the beach with a small portion of my family. A year ago, I would not have done that. A year ago, I did not do that. Last July my girlfriend came to DC with her parents and her younger sister to see the sights and I told no one at the office how wonderful it was to see her.
However, this is not just about civilians and soldiers being open about their lives, their significant others, their spouses, and their children. This is about everyone who is a member of the LGBT community. President Obama said that change does not happen on its own, and there are many “unsung heroes” who make sacrifices and push the process forward. Wherever we are, wherever we go, we have to be the connection between this pressing matter and the direct impact it has on millions of Americans for those who do not yet understand why things need to change.
We have to be the friendly stranger in the grocery store or on the Metro, the acquaintance, the classmate, the co-worker, the friend or the family member that brings the issue home.