EDWARDS AFB – Members of Team Edwards were invited to show pride for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at an awareness month luncheon June 26. The luncheon, held at Club Muroc, was championed by the 412th Medical Group and sponsored by the 412th Test Wing and NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center.
The theme for this year’s pride month, “Reflections of Pride – Stonewall 45,” fit well with the theme for the luncheon, telling the stories of the LGBT community past and present.
The chairperson for the luncheon, Staff Sgt. Cedric Lanier, 412th Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Community Health NCO in charge, started off with the story of a Navy petty officer, David Lara, who served in 1965 until he was released in 1970 “with a less than honorable discharge” because of his homosexuality.
The keynote speaker was Maj. Jeffrey Mueller, Enterprise Integration Section chief at Los Angeles AFB.
“My name is Jeffrey Mueller and I want to recruit you,” said Mueller. “I want to recruit you to hear the stories of people that are different than you. I want to recruit you to hear the stories of your peers, those you work with, your subordinates, your supervisors.”
In fact, Mueller, learned that phrase listening to the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the United States, who was assassinated in 1978 one year after his election.
As service members, gay and lesbian men and women, have faced an even more unique set of challenges. Prior to 1993, simply being gay was a reason to be barred from military service. In 1993, the law and policy most commonly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was enacted, removing questions of homosexuality from the enlistment process. However, open homosexuality was still reason to be relieved of duty from the military.
According to Mueller, during that time 13,650 members of the military were discharged for being homosexual.
And yet it was in 1993 that former U.S. Navy commander, Zoe Dunning, publicly came out as a lesbian at a political rally outside the gates of California’s Moffett Field. At that time, Dunning was a Lieutenant in the Navy Reserves. For the next two-and-a-half years, she fought to remain in the Navy Reserves and eventually was promoted twice and awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Dunning retired in 2007 after serving as an openly gay member of the U.S. military for over 13 years.
“To put things into perspective, from 1994 to 2003 there were approximately 9,500 people discharged, and estimates of the cost to the Department of Defense was $195 million because of the training that those individuals had received,” said Mueller.
In 2010, President of the United States, Barack Obama, began working to repeal DADT.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in reference to the DADT policies, “We have a policy in place that forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally it comes down to integrity – theirs as an individual, ours as an institution.”
The repeal was signed into law Dec. 22 with the provision that the secretary of defense and chairmen of the joint chiefs had to certify that the military was ready to implement the repeal. Certification was issued in July of 2011 and in September the repeal was implemented.
“I will not forget that day for several reasons,” said Mueller. After coming out to a counselor, Mueller agreed to appear in an article published by the Denver Post, along with a few other news stations.
He was returning to work when he received a call from his desk. On the other end of the line was a contractor that worked for him saying, “Jeff, Jeff, I think I just outed you to the whole office.” She had seen the article and didn’t realize it was Mueller and “sent it out to everybody saying, ‘isn’t this funny that some guy with the same name and rank is in the story,’” but then she saw his picture on page two and grew very nervous.
“My response to her was, today, ‘I don’t care,'” said Mueller.
That moment became a profound realization for him because his intent had been “it’s just another day, I’m no different than anybody else in the military, I serve and do the best that I can.”
Today, Mueller shares his story to help “other people acknowledge who they are and realize it’s okay to be who they are, that’s really what it was all about.”
Pamela Natale, 412th Force Support Squadron, Family Child Care coordinator, also jumped at the opportunity to share her story, not as a lesbian, but as the mother and ex-wife of two gay men.
Natale and her first husband married in 1985 and in 1989 were stationed in Kadena Air Base in Okanawa, Japan, with their daughter. He had spent a great deal of time with his male friends, but Natale did not think much about it. At each subsequent station, Guam then England, the couple drifted further and further apart. But he would always re-assure her “you’re the only woman for me.”
“Memorial Day, 1996, a friend of his told me that he had met [my husband] in a gay bar and he tells folks that I knew that he was gay and I accepted it because I was a fat woman and I couldn’t do any better with my life. My whole world crashed at that moment,” said Natale.
By that time, they were a family of four and Natale sunk into a deep depression, trying to learn what she had done wrong to cause a man to turn gay.
Over time, she learned to forgive her ex-husband for what had happened.
“As far as my relationship with my ex-husband we’ve become good friends, we talk often about our children and I give him dating tips,” said Natale. “Just because he was gay didn’t change him from being an Airman and serving the country that he loved.”
Natale later found out that her son was also gay. Her response when he came out, “I love you as much today as I did yesterday, it doesn’t change just because you’re gay. All a mother wants in life is for her children to be happy.”
Lanier was the last to share his story. He spoke about how he had hidden his sexuality under DADT, until someone found out and he faced being discharged. Until that time he had developed a reputation for being a hard-worker, reliable and dependable.
Lanier credits organizations like OutServe for the fact that he is still in the military today, after the dark time that surrounded his discharge.
“It’s my scarlet letter, my scar that I wear, but I wear it proudly, it’s a situation I took that was totally negative that could have defeated me or defeated others, but I used it to my advantage,” said Lanier.
“My goal has always been to inspire change,” said Lanier. He left attendees with a quote from Mya Angelou, “I have learned that people will forget what you say, will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”