Being part of the LGBTQ+ community can be a hard life in and of itself, but being in the military as a queer person can be even harder. There is a constant pressure to be the most masculine, to conform to the majority, and there is a fair amount of hazing that can go on during someone’s time in the military. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a previous policy that was supposedly set in place to “protect” closeted gay, bisexual, and lesbian military personelle by prohibiting discrimitation of individuals if they were’t openly queer. This policy was also meant to prohibit other military personnel from discriminating against closeted queer members of the military, but was often one sided in that if someone was outed as queer, they would face disciplinary concequences. Unauthorized investigations into the sexual orientation of military members was done often, and this led to the expansion to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue, Don’t Harass.” It wasn’t until 17 years later that this policy was repealed to allow openly gay individuals to join the military and express information about their lives.
On Tuesday, November 12th, the University of Michigan held a panel for LGBTQ+ people in the military. They hailed from different backgrounds and expertise in and out of the military. Necko Fanning was an intelligence analyst during his time in the military, Lacy Jones was in the medical field in the Airforce, and Michelle Lee was an engineer for the Army for eight years before going back to civilian life. They each have different stories about being in the military due to their different experiences.
Lacy and Michelle were both in the service during the time of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They mentioned that during that time, they were very focused on their work in the military. They also mentioned that the military changed them by the time they were finished. Lacy used an analogy in that she started in the military as a sucker fish. She was young and she was naive and really discovering herself and her place in the world. By the time she was out of the military, she was a shark. She just wanted “to get stuff done and stand [her] ground.” Michelle was very “idealistic and excited” at first, but she became very realistic after serving, which really helped her flesh out her leadership philosophy after leaving the military.
Now the political atmosphere is again what some might call an anti-queer climate. There have been recent attempts to ban trans people from the military and a recent Supreme Court case questioned whether the civil rights act protects LGBTQ individuals. A member from the audience, himself a gay service member, commented that this current administration is allowing people to feel like it is okay to voice discrimination towards members of the LGBTQ community. He also mentioned that you would receive different care regarding LGBTQ health depending on which Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Hospital you went to. All members of the panel regard the VA in Ann Arbor is one of the best ones you can go to as a LGBTQ veteran.
One last piece of advice was given by one of the panelists: if you want to support LGBTQ veterans, just listen to their stories and what they need from you. They will tell you what you can do to help them best, which is more effective than you inferring what you think they need. Treat them like you would a civilian, as it helps them assimilate into society a lot easier.
Being a veteran has helped all the members of the panel in many ways. Being part of the LGBTQ community did make it a bit harder during some areas of services, but overall all members view the military as a great experience and it has made them who they are today. Next time you meet a veteran of any sort, listen to what they have to say and learn about their personal history, and about how the military has changed them personally.