Daughter. Aunt. Friend. Wife. Sister. Dog Momma. LGBT Military Spouse. These are all words that describe me. Each descriptor plays an important role in my life. There is a story to be told for each of these roles.
When Kate asked me to share my LGBT military spouse story with the MSM audience, I immediately agreed. I want to take the audience through my journey as an LGBT military spouse to shed some light on our community and show how much progress has been made in the last six years to move the LGBT military community towards equality.
The “Friend” Zone
When I first started dating (my now wife) Ellen in 2009, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) was still in effect. I was new to the military life and had no idea about the serious ramifications of DADT. Within a few short months, I learned that our relationship would indefinitely remain a secret and we could only confide in a select few individuals. Ellen was a direct commission to the Army in July 2009, and I did not want to be the cause for her career to be over before it even began. After she completed Basic Officer Leader Course she was stationed at Fort Bragg and I was living in a suburb of Philadelphia. The geographical distance made our “cover stories” to others even more complicated trying to explain why we were meeting halfway or why I was frequently traveling to Fort Bragg to visit a friend.
In August 2010 I moved to Fort Bragg and Ellen moved out of her on-post Junior Officers’ quarters. We rented a home in Fayetteville and Ellen was named as the primary on the lease. We had to obtain special permission from the realtor for a non-relative roommate to occupy the premises. Once I moved to Fort Bragg I slowly began to attend events and social gatherings with Ellen as her roommate. When asked what made me want to move to Fort Bragg I would always respond, “I just needed a change of pace.” My response usually received confused looks as the wheels were turning inside their heads trying to figure out what was really going on.
The “Special Friend”
In June 2011, Ellen was promoted to 1LT and she was to be pinned-on at a monthly ceremony at Womack Army Medical Center. There were approximately 300 people in attendance at the ceremony. Of the 20 promotions done that day, I was the only non-family member to pin-on a service member. In fact, when Ellen’s OIC spoke on her behalf she mentioned that Ellen’s family could not join her, so her friend was present instead.
I was beaming with pride that my fiancée was being promoted, her first Army promotion; however, I was thought of as nothing more than the friend. After the ceremony was over the hospital Commander took time to shake hands with each of service members and their guests. When the Commander came to me, he thanked me for being Ellen’s “special friend.” Some would take offense to being called the “special friend,” but to me, that was the Commander’s way of acknowledging and showing acceptance of our relationship without actually saying it.
Times They Are A Changin’
On September 20, 2011, DADT was repealed and no longer an effective policy. I would like to tell you that on September 21 everyone welcomed us with open arms, but unfortunately that did not happen. For several months there was still a stigma. At that point we learned that policy changes do not necessarily result in attitude changes.
In December 2011, we PCS’d to the United States Military Academy at West Point. Having just moved from a non-tolerant environment, we were still extremely hesitant to reveal our relationship. Yet, within a few short months, we were made to feel welcome. I was even invited and included in unit functions and social gatherings. West Point certainly started to feel like home.
“I Do”…but I still don’t matter?
Fast forward to November 24, 2012. Ellen and I were the first same-sex couple to wed at West Point. We were married in the Old Cadet Chapel on a freezing cold Saturday, but the fall foliage was still hanging around, so our pictures turned out to be spectacular! While DADT had now been repealed for over a year, we were still terrified of protestors and the potential ramifications of being the first same-sex couple to wed at such a sacred place. Due to these fears we decided to have a top-secret intimate wedding in hopes of avoiding any press or protestors. We succeeded!
Shortly after our wedding, I discovered an incredible organization, the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), which is the nation’s largest resource and support network for the partners, spouses, families, and allies of America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) service members and veterans. Immediately upon joining AMPA, I found the sense of community and support for which I had been searching.
Now married, with DADT repealed and an amazing support system, one might think all is good, right? Well, not quite. Despite DADT having been repealed no other acknowledgement towards equality had been made for LGBT service members and their families.
My small business employer did not offer health benefits, but I was able to remain on my parents’ health insurance until my twenty-sixth birthday. While I was grateful that I had health insurance, all of the providers in our area were considered out of network and the co-pays were astronomical. Since I was not recognized as a military spouse, I was unable to obtain Tricare insurance, which meant I could not receive care at the post medical treatment facility where my wife was a nurse. Instead, we would drive 40 minutes each way to the closest urgent care facility.
A “New” Army
On September 3, 2013 the Department of Defense began recognizing same-sex military couples. Being able to hold that DOD Dependant ID card meant that the day had finally arrived when equality had reached the military. My wife was finally able to list me as a next of kin and not have to receive counseling for listing an “unusual beneficiary” on her Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI) paperwork.
In October 2014, Ellen was promoted to Captain. That is perhaps my favorite memory. I was so incredibly honored to stand next to my wife and pin her as her spouse and not just a special friend.
In April 2015, we PCS’d to the National Training Center (NTC)/Fort Irwin (CA). That was our first move as a married couple. From the day we arrived on post, we felt very comfortable. That feeling was what I had been dreaming of since we began dating six years ago. I became a board member of the spouses’ club on post. I actually cried as I was getting ready the morning of my first board meeting. My tears were those of joy as I reflected on how far the LGBT military community had come and the mere fact that I was able to attend a spouses’ club board meeting without any fears or hesitation. And shortly thereafter, I was named the Fort Irwin Spouse of the Year by Military Spouse magazine!
What Lies Ahead
While significant progress has been made for the LGBT military community, some issues remain.
- One important issue is the achievement of equal treatment and protection of our transgender service members and their families. The Department of Defense has taken the first step by announcing that they will soon lift the transgender service ban by updating outdated regulations, but there are significant delays.
- LGBT service members and their families have limited resources available in the religious sector of the military. Certain endorsing agencies do not permit military chaplains to perform services, such as spiritual counseling and marriage retreats, for LGBT couples.
“Many people thought that the repeal of DADT meant everything changed overnight. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for most LGBT military families. It has taken several years after the repeal and a lot of hard work and education for our LGBT families to come closer to truly having all the rights and protections they deserve.” – Nick Stone, Director of Communications for the American Military Partner Association
“As we prepare for our transition to civilian life, we are both humbled and proud. Humbled that so many in the military community supported our family and proud that through our voice, we were able to make changes for future LGBT military families.” – Ashley Broadway-Mack, President of the American Military Partner Association, Spouse of the Year
“While we have accomplished so much, we still have work to do — especially for our transgender service members and family members who continue to selflessly serve without the full support they need and deserve. Together as one united military family community, we must continue to work together to ensure we strengthen and support all military families.” -Stephen Peters, founder & president emeritus of the American Military Partner Association, and spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, 2015 Pentagon Spouse of the Year
The American Military Partner Association