Youth Blog – Identifying as LGBTQ in the Military
Written by Vanessa Bermudez, B.A., Project VOICE intern
My Air Force Enlistment and “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”
Enlisting in the U.S. Air Force was one of the best and most important decisions I have ever made in my life. I decided to enlist in 2006 while the “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy was in effect. During DADT, the main policy was just that – the military will not ask you about your sexual orientation and you will not tell them what your sexual orientation is. Even though I was LGBTQ identified, I wanted to serve my country, get the G.I. Bill, and use the experience to find a good job afterwards. During the four years of my enlistment, I made life-long friends, traveled to other countries, and gained experience that I still use today. There were a lot of great experiences, but there were also struggles from being LGBTQ identified.
One of the struggles I faced was sometimes worrying about the military finding out that I was LGBTQ identified. If they did find out, there would be an investigation. If there was enough evidence to prove that I was LGBTQ identified, then there would be a court-martial. I would then be given a General Under Honorable Conditions discharge, depending on my character of service and the “evidence” they found. The type of discharge someone receives from the military is extremely important because it specifies what types of veteran benefits a person may receive, such as medical benefits and the all-important G.I. Bill. More often than not, people who were discharged under DADT received Other Than Honorable discharges.
After 17 years as a law, DADT was repealed in 2010, allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual-identified individuals to serve openly. DADT is still not over for many transgender service members though. I think that some of my personal struggles and fears and those of other LGBTQ-identified individuals who served under DADT are similar to the struggles and fears that current military personnel have today about serving openly, especially transgender individuals . Even though the administration could not successfully enforce the transgender military ban, there was a lot of concern by currently-serving, transgender-identified individuals when the August 2017 presidential memorandum “Military Service by Transgender Individuals” was announced. There is now an opposing legislative bill that was introduced in September 2017 which “would prohibit the involuntary separation or denying of re-enlistment of transgender troops solely on the basis of gender identity .” The bill has still not been passed, and the futures of transgender service members are still uncertain.
Luckily, most of the people that I worked with while in the Air Force didn’t care if I was LGBTQ identified or not. Furthermore, by the time I was stationed and had completed my initial training, most people in the military didn’t care about anyone’s sexual orientation. The military facility I specifically worked at had many LGBTQ-identified individuals and people from all branches of the military. This created strong friendships, a sense of family, and a “home away from home” for many of us. While working there, I made life-long friends and I still keep in touch with most of them today. One such friend recommended that I move to Chicago when I was discharged, and I have lived here ever since.
How to enlist and questions to ask:
If you’re curious about or interested in one day joining the military, there are a few basic requirements. First, you have to have a high school diploma or GED. Second, you have to be either 17 (with parent permission) or 18 years old. You will have to pass a physical exam and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. I always suggest speaking with either a veteran or someone currently serving before talking with a recruiter. If you identify as LGBTQ I recommend reaching out to a LGBTQ identified veteran.
 Caputo, C. J. (2017). Should Transgender Persons Serve?. U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, 143(12), 42-47.
 To provide for the retention and service of transgender members of the Armed Forces, S. 1820, 115th Cong. (2017).
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