June 1969 saw an uprising, known as the Stonewall Riots, that helped spark the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, and what we now celebrate as PRIDE Month. As of September 20, 2011, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ meant that LGBTQ+ military members were able to serve their country openly. While these events have been major steps forward in recognizing the rights of those of us in the LGBTQ+ community, misunderstanding colors much of today’s social and political discourse. A lot of this is especially evident in the things people say to us, even when they aren’t rooted in bad intentions, but also in how they treat us.
As a queer person in a hetero-passing relationship, people have said things to me that have caught me off guard more than once. Friends of mine, as well as others, in the LGBTQ+ military community have been the subject of scrutiny, as well as the butt of ‘harmless’ jokes. This pride month, I have chosen to educate, rather than speak out in anger, in the hopes I can help in building a bridge between communities and foster understanding, and maybe even respect. With suicide rates of LGBTQ+ active duty and military veterans reaching over 15%, it is especially important to foster LGBTQ+ empathy and respect in the military.
Some of us in the LGBTQ+ military community came together and compiled some helpful things you can do (and avoid!) to make your LGBTQ+ military friends and family members feel supported.
1. Use religion as a means to degrade or patronize us.
Many of us endured shame and trauma at the hands of religion by way of churches, family, and friends. Telling us we can “pray the gay away” or “Jesus can change you” is neither helpful nor wanted. We meet people from all religions and all walks of life in the military community. If there is one thing this community can teach us, it’s that we can come together and learn from one another regardless of religious beliefs.
2. Tell us you “respect our lifestyle choices.”
We cannot help who we are or who we love anymore than anyone else. Comments like this continue to perpetuate shame and are rooted in ignorance. Who we are is no more a lifestyle choice than you being who you are.
3. Use the word “gay” to describe a bad person or situation.
When you say, for example, “It’s so gay that I have to be deployed during Christmas,” you are reinforcing the same negative connotations with the word that most LGBTQ+ people have endured for the majority of their lives. There are tons of other words you can use in its place, and we ask that you do.
4. Tell us about your gay friend or family member.
Most people who do this are well meaning, and we totally get that you want to find a way to relate to us. Honestly, though, when you do this, it makes us feel like you don’t see us as anything other than this part of our identity. Instead, interact with us like you would anyone else – ask about our day, our favorite food, what we like to do for fun, etc.
5. Ask us about our ‘intimate’ lives.
This should go without saying, however, it is asked all too often. If you wouldn’t ask anyone else about theirs, don’t ask about ours.
6. Tell us we “chose a side” if we are with/married to someone of the opposite sex.
Contrary to popular belief, there are queer people in committed relationships with the opposite sex. Saying things like this implies our queer identities don’t exist and can be “changed” based on who we love, which isn’t true at all.
7. Tell us we “don’t look gay.”
Unlike what is portrayed in media and movies, “gay” doesn’t have a certain look. Please don’t reinforce stereotypes that are meant to degrade queer people.
8. “Joke” about LGBTQ+ couples not having kids.
Yes, it is harder for same-sex couples to have kids, as the options generally only include IVF (which is pricey), surrogacy (again, pricey and needs to include a willing human being), or adoption (which can be difficult due to anti-LGBTQ+ laws in certain states). We get it, and don’t need to be reminded of added stigma.
9. Refuse to use preferred pronouns.
I’m not talking about when someone accidentally uses the wrong pronoun and immediately corrects themselves (hey, we understand it takes some getting used to). However, I’m going to use an allegory to demonstrate this one. Say your name is John, but you go by your middle name, Michael, because you don’t like your first name. Everyone in your work center respects this, but there’s that one person who calls you John, because “that’s your ‘real’ name.” You’ve asked them to please call you Michael, but they repeatedly refuse. How does this make you feel? If your answer is “disrespected,” then you partially understand what it is like for nonbinary and trans people. The people who work alongside you deserve more respect than this, please show it to them.
1. Use correct pronouns.
Whether or not you “agree,” it’s important to show the people you work with respect and make them feel as welcome as you would want to feel. See #9 above for clarification on why this is important.
2. Seek to understand.
We don’t mind if you ask us appropriate questions. For example, if you don’t understand a term we use pertaining to the community, feel free to ask us what it means. Ask about resources to learn from, as well as ways you can support the community.
3. Stand with us.
We aren’t asking you to use violence against someone who is demeaning to us. If you hear someone disrespecting us, something as simple as speaking up for us goes a long way in showing that you care and support us. Leadership, take note!
This is probably the single best way to support someone in the LGBTQ+ community at large. Being a safe space for us and caring about how we feel matters more than you know. Trust me, it means the world.