A US sailor asks why LGBT Pride Month is not celebrated in the fleet

Here is a guest commentary from Sean Kirkpatrick, an Air Traffic Controller, Second-Class Petty Officer serving overseas in the United States Navy, who is concerned that while other Pride and History months are actively celebrated by the fleet, LGBT Pride Month, while officially recognized on paper, is not. Perhaps this year that can change.  Sean is writing in his personal capacity, of course:

According to President and Commander-in-Chief Obama’s proclamation on 01 June 2009, “LGBT Americans have made, and continue to make, great and lasting contributions that continue to strengthen the fabric of American society.” For this reason, the President announced that “by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.”

That was four years ago. Last June, the President reiterated that June is LGBT Pride Month.

As an active duty, openly-gay Sailor, I take great pride in my country’s extension of equality to her LGBT Sailors. I had the honor to serve aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) from 2008-2011, where I was awarded Blue Jacket Sailor of the Year, 2009. After two deployments, and numerous exercises at sea, I came to see the Stennis and my shipmates as my extended family. I am currently serving overseas in Italy, where I live with my fiancé.

Aircraft Carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). Photo courtesy of DOD.

Aircraft Carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). Photo courtesy of DOD.

Serving under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell did present its challenges, even though I was serving in the final year of that terrible policy. Every pre-DADT LGBT service member experienced the careful use of pronouns and the evasiveness of our personal lives. I even had my own scare, as a former superior had printed and mailed a majority of my Facebook account to the Captain of the ship. Luckily, the Captain, the legal department, and my phenomenal chain of command owned black markers and eliminated any references to my sexual orientation, sparing me from discharge.

After the repeal, I made no secret of my orientation, seeing it as a duty to those who sacrificed so much to allow us to service honorably and openly. I took pride in myself and my work, and focused on leading by example.

This is my final year as an active duty Sailor. I will be transitioning to the Selected Reserves, where my future husband and I will move to New York City and finish our degrees. The Navy has been great to me, without question. It’s been challenging, but immensely rewarding. Yet, as with any relationship, there is always room for improvement.

Many commands have a “multi-cultural committee,” including the Stennis and my current command. These committees serve to promote the contributions that minority cultures make to society. We celebrate Martin Luther King, African American/Black History month, Women’s History month, Holocaust Days of Remembrance, Asian Pacific American Heritage month, Women’s Equality Day, Hispanic Heritage month, National Disability Employment Awareness month and National American Indian Heritage month.

It’s a wonderful program with one glaring exception. LGBT Pride Month is not celebrated in the fleet, despite the fact that the Pentagon celebrated the first LGBT Pride Month last June.

The multi-cultural committees educate the commands by placing posters of historical persons, such as Martin Luther King, around mess decks, work centers, and commonly-used areas. Sometimes guest speakers are brought to larger commands to give recognition to minority communities, and praise their contributions. Our Culinary Specialists would prepare sheet cakes with edible images of President Obama, Oprah, and other famous persons. For Asian Pacific American Heritage month, for example, the crew performed Odori and Mai (traditional Japanese dance).

It would be a meaningful tribute to the LGBT community to see the likes of Harvey Milk, Alan Turing, and Matthew Shepard celebrated and remembered among my friends and shipmates.

This proud, openly-gay Sailor wonders: Since the Commander-in-Chief has issued two LGBT Pride Month proclamations guiding the Armed Forces, and the Secretary of Defense has acknowledged, celebrated, and encouraged LGBT Pride Month, then why is celebrating LGBT Pride Month left as a voluntary event fleet-wide, especially when the voluntary option is not working?

I remember a time for Women’s History month, the ship’s Executive Officer was upset that not enough people showed up for the presentation. He went over the ship’s intercomm and ordered everyone not actually on watch to come to the hangar bay for the presentation. It was a wonderful show of support for our female shipmates. Is it not time that the same support be shown for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender coworkers as well?

Aircraft Carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74)

Aircraft Carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). Photo courtesy of DOD.

Onboard the Stennis, I used to wish that the same resources and effort was spent on our Pride Month as on those recognizing other important communities that had contributed to my Navy and to America. I wanted to see the same efforts made that I witnessed for other minorities. We now have a great opportunity for our chains of command to extend the same honor to my community by highlighting the achievements of the many Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Americans who have shaped, and continue to shape, our great nation. It is time for the Navy, and the entire US military, to actually celebrate LGBT Pride Month as they celebrate the other communities that make up our armed forces.

In the words of Secretary Panetta, “During Pride Month, and every month, let us celebrate our rich diversity and renew our enduring commitment to equality for all.”

Sean Kirkpatrick is an Air Traffic Controller, Second-Class Petty Officer serving overseas in the United States Navy. The opinions stated are his own and do not represent or speak for the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any partisan political group.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • http://www.facebook.com/wesleym.swarens Ham Central Stationthree

    bunch of filthzoids is what you are

  • http://www.facebook.com/wesleym.swarens Ham Central Stationthree

    why would it be celebrated the usmcj still classifies your nasty kind as section 8 which means mental disease punishable by military imprisonment, fine and a dishonorable discharge

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.corsi.18 Mark Corsi

    Read the article, you sarcastic bitch.

  • Moderator3

    Read the article more carefully.

  • dantes44

    What other months does the Navy celebrate? Is there a dance for Black History Month? Cupcake sale for Women’s History Month? Jazz Appreciation Month should be fun.

    Oh, they don’t celebrate those? Then why is the LGBT community special? I thought they wanted to be treated as equals?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Bedwell/1822575019 Michael Bedwell

    Thank you for speaking so well at that event, Capt. Phelps, and for your service to our country and Community overall. Having followed the events of the past four+ years closely, I say with confidence that THE reason, THE obstacle to other events across our military world was the keynoter at that Pentagon observance, [former] Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson. If you’ll recall, not only did he, unlike his boss SECDEF Panetta in the opening video statement, not in any way salute gay service men and women, instead praising the institution regarding repeal implementation, he actually had the GALL to effectively say that such celebrations for gays were INAPPROPRIATE. Quote, emphasis mine: “Within the military, events such as this must occupy a different and
    qualified place [than Pride events at other federal agencies] because in the
    military, INDIVIDUAL PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS ARE SUBORDINATE TO THE GOOD OF
    THE UNIT AND THE MISSION.” The NAKED disingenuousness of his assertion is proven by PO Kirkpatrick’s list above of Special Observances of “individual personal characteristics” Johnson knew have gone on month-after-month, year-after-year. The month before his objection to the very event I imagine he was ORDERED to speak at, was Asian Pacific
    American Heritage Month, February was African American/Black History Month, March was Women’s History Month,
    April observed Holocaust Remembrance Day, September was Hispanic Heritage
    Month, and November National American Indian Heritage. He also knew that the DoD has an entire taxpayer-funded 42-yr. old department, the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute [DEOMI], with its own campus on Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, and a staff of approximately 150 civilian and military personnel whose mission includes maintaining and creating programs to CELEBRATE diversity in the military including creating materials for such observances. They created the design for the 2012 Pentagon Pride poster and program cover despite the fact that the 2010 Pentagon pre-repeal report that Johnson chiefly authored explicitly recommended against including gays in the DoD’s diversity programs. Even ignoring his checkered history during the repeal effort, given Johnson’s objection to the Pride event, his regurgitation that day of the Big Lie that non-DOMA banned benefits for gay military couples STILL have to be studied, and especially his strangely going out of his way to declare, “I do not consider myself an
    activist on the matter of gay men and women in America,” with respect, I was shocked that the organization of which you are a Board Member, OS-SLDN, recently praised him as a great hero for gay rights. In any case, I’m convinced that his departure will unblock the door for future Pride events at the Pentagon and new ones on bases and ships around the world—at the same time it will take the uncompromising efforts of LGBs in the military and their nonLGB allies to make them happen. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.phelps Matthew Phelps

    Having spoken at the first DoD Pride Month event at the Pentagon, I, too, wonder why there is still no recognition in the actual military branches. My participation in that event was at my own expense and did not elicit so much as a comment (positive or negative) from my command or the Marine Corps at all. While I certainly am not one to expect accolades, I am forced to wonder why the message of celebrating our diversity as a force is not extended to the LGBT military community.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That was a good turn of phrase. No, though I’m not sure they’d accept something already published elsewhere. And in this case, I’ve already made sure the piece has made its way to the appropriate authorities, as it were :)

  • emjayay

    I worked in a very famous national park site visited by people from all over the US and world. Someone decided to have us put up displays in the museum lobby for all the federally declared months. I was chosen at random (yes that was a joke, and not invented by me) to do the LGBT month display. A lot of federal agencies do stuff internally, including for LGBT month but not many have the opportunity to do something like this that is seen by the general public. (Angry American visitor: “Why is the government advertising homosexuality?”) But then, unlike the military, the Interior Department and the park service haven’t been discriminating in employment until just very recently. At least not overtly.

    I hope Sean Kirkpatrick’s piece is part of really turning things around in the military. Obviously, as we’ve seen from other stuff lately just ending employment discrimination and whatever has gone with it is not enough to turn that ship around (I’m so proud of that accidentally clever metaphor) on gay related policies. Like anything else, leadership from the top (and I mean the top) is critical.

    Has Sean submitted this piece to Stars and Stripes?

  • Jim Olson

    Good luck going into the future with this if Hagel gets the nod as SecDef. He still thinks teh gay is icky.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    If he pulls this off he will :-)

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    Sean Kirkpatrick sounds pretty awesome. Perhaps, he should be celebrated along with Harvey Milk, Matthew Shepard, and Alan Turing.

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