Serving with Pride Published June 1, 2023 By Staff Sgt. Kayli Morris HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- The word ‘pride’ has many definitions; one being “respect and appreciation for oneself and others as members of a group…especially a marginalized group/solidarity with a group based on a shared identity, history, and experience.” Celebrating Pride is about gaining visibility for LGBTQ+ individuals and provides a platform to erase social stigmas which surround the community. Celebrating Pride, at its core, is about human rights. It is a time to champion progress, while still acknowledging the challenges that remain in our quest toward equal rights for all humans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. While pride is something to be celebrated all year, the month of June was designated ‘Pride Month’ in remembrance of the Stonewall uprising which occurred in June 1969 and was a pivotal moment in LGBTQ+ history. The first Pride March took place in June 1970, one year after the events of Stonewall. Now, 53 years later, Pride Month has remained a time dedicated to the uplifting of LGBTQ+ voices, celebration of LGBTQ+ culture and the support of LGBTQ+ rights. Throughout military history, the LGBTQ+ community has faced unique challenges, from policies which explicitly banned gay men and women from their ranks, policies where same-sex relationships were criminalized and considered cause for discharge, and policies which classified being gay as a mental illness, therefore disqualifying them from service. In 1993, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was enacted, allowing closeted LGBTQ+ people to serve. Under this policy members would not be asked about their sexual orientation but could be discharged for disclosing it. This remained in effect for 18 years, until Congress repealed the policy in 2011, allowing LGBTQ+ members to serve openly. Further barrier removal came in 2013, when spousal and family benefits were extended to same sex married couples in the military and again in 2021 when the ban on transgender individuals’ ability to serve was rescinded. Despite this progress, acceptance of LGBTQ+ members in the military is fairly new. It is important to acknowledge that cultural change takes time, stigmas may linger, and barriers do still exist for these members. I joined the Air Force in July 2017, a still closeted 23-year-old woman. Fast forward six months, I arrived at my first duty station; Minot AFB, ND. It was here my journey of accepting myself and discovering my ‘pride’ truly began. I met my best friend while at Minot AFB and right away he made me feel comfortable, loved, and accepted before I even came out to him. In a word, he knew. It was during that first year in the military I decided to come out to some of my close friends and family; however, I still wasn’t publicly open outside of small circles. To my surprise, the more fellow service members I got to know, the more I felt the love and acceptance everyone deserves, and suddenly found myself surrounded by a military family that had no hesitance to see me for me, allowing me to be my authentic self. That’s not to say I still didn’t have reservations about serving openly. It took me over a year from that point to even say the words out loud “I am gay.” Even when you do “come out,” it’s never just once. In the military, we are constantly on the move. New places, new people, some more accepting than others. However, I can attest a lot of the confidence I have gained in my identity to individuals I have met while serving. It is my hope that every LGBTQ+ service member finds such people in their own lives and within our military family. The DoD has openly recognized the value of diversity within our forces, taking intentional steps to promote inclusion and respect for all individuals who choose to serve. Everyone’s experiences are different, but regardless of our differences, we are all brothers and sisters in arms. Together we are always stronger.