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.
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).
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?
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.