On June 25, Tinker Air Force Base’s first ever Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Luncheon was held in the Tinker Chapel Hall in celebration of June as Pride Month.
“We’re at a point today where it’s about unity and strength,” 72nd Air Base Wing Commander Col. Paul Filcek said during his opening remarks. “That unity and strength are best reflected when you consider that there is not a masterpiece painting that is just one color. We need every color of paint and every inch of the pallet to create the masterpiece that is Team Tinker, and Team Tinker is the leverage point of American Air Power.”
72nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron Commander Col. (Dr.) David Hardy was the speaker for the event, taking guests through the history of LGBT contributions and struggles in the U.S. military.
“Today we’re going to reflect, recognize and remember,” Hardy said. “We’re going to reflect on the LGBT movement as it relates to the military. We’re going to recognize those who came before us and the sacrifices they made and we’re going to renew our commitment to our mission to fly, fight and win.”
Hardy’s history lesson started with one of the first LGBT Soldiers in the United States Military, Lt. Col. John Laurens. Laurens served as Washington’s aides-de-camp, was a prisoner of war and a diplomat to France before his death at the Battle of the Combahee River. He also discussed Staff Sgt. Johnnie Phelps, a lesbian member of the Women’s Army Corps who convinced General Eisenhower to not discharge lesbian servicewomen in Europe and Tech. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, the first openly gay man in the military to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine. He finished by discussing SCPO Christopher Beck, a Navy SEAL and Purple Heart recipient who later came out as transgendered. Hardy noted “that Purple Heart didn’t go away when she transitioned.”
Along the way, Hardy discussed the unofficial ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policies of the Continental Army, the official Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue policies of the ’90s and the other various roadblocks that have been placed in front of members of the LGBT community who served their country.
It wasn’t just the roadblocks that were discussed, but also how to tear those roadblocks down.
“This brings me to the core of my message today: PROVE YOU BELONG HERE” Hardy said. “Things are better, but things aren’t perfect and there are still detractors out there. You need to prove you belong. You need to work harder, longer and have a great attitude. That’s just how it is. There are others who had to prove they belonged before us, they did it and it paved the way for us.”
Hardy emphasized that despite the differences in military members we all have one thing in common: The Mission.
“First and foremost, I am an Airman. This is what I do and this is who I am. I feel most comfortable when I put on this uniform. The fact that I love another man, an amazing man who supports me and thus supports the Air Force Mission is irrelevant to this uniform” Hardy said.
Former President Barack Obama signed an end to the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in 2011 with support from both political parties and the American public. At the time a Rand Corporation survey of military members showed 70% stating that the sexual orientation of a fellow service member would have no effect on completing the mission and of that 70%, there were 92% who said they already were serving with someone who they thought was LGBT.
“I’m here because others before me did awesome things, took risks and lost careers so I could stand up here,” Hardy said. “You need to know what your history is. You need to know what got you to this point so you can continue to advance equality and support the Air Force.”
“I’m hearing a lot of the same arguments that were used to keep me quiet and were used to keep you out of the United States Military” Hardy told the audience. “They were wrong then and they’re wrong now. This is not a political talk; my mission here is to build the strongest Air Force we can have. We need to work within our leadership and amongst our peers in such a way as to say ‘you know what? Here’s who we are, here’s what we do, here’s what we bring to this fight’ and they will see that.”