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Leading Out Without Fear

  • Published
  • By Col. Scott L. McLaughlin, 349th Air Mobility Wing Commander
  • 349th Air Mobility Wing

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — In June 2015, I had the distinct privilege of hosting Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Event at McChord AFB called, “Color Our World with Pride.”

The event was a resounding success and several Airmen commented they would have never imagined such a gathering happening on that installation.

Since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and Defense of Marriage Act, I have seen dramatic and sweeping change in the military regarding diversity and LGBT inclusion among our forces. As I reflect on my own career, it becomes abundantly clear just how much change has taken place.

I began my Air Force career in 1986, seven years before the enactment of DADT. Back then, most LGBT service members wouldn’t dare to speak of “gay issues” out of fear of suspicion, reprisal, and potential military discharge.

Although DADT offered a glimmer of hope for the armed forces’ LGBT population, it had, at least for me, the opposite effect. I respected DADT during its 18-year enforcement; however, my compliance was not an easy thing to do.

I was asked to be untruthful about who I was in an organization that valued integrity first. I felt compelled to build an impenetrable wall between my career and personal lives in an Air Force that encouraged the blending of both.

I dreaded the inevitable questions about my personal life at military gatherings. I worried about my partner (now spouse) of 20 years holding our household together while I was deployed without any of the support offered to other military spouses.

I purposefully downplayed my contributions to the Air Force and delayed “filling the squares” knowing that if I rose in rank my personal life would become increasingly more public. My biggest regret, though, was my Airmen friends never knew who I truly was as a person. 

But that was then, and this is now.  Indeed, many things for LGBT service members have changed for the better, but challenges remain. As we continue to take positive steps toward full inclusion of the LGBT community in all services, I want to take this opportunity to thank the LGBT members serving in the Air Force and their supporting loved ones for their courage, perseverance, and outstanding service to our great nation.

Although the Department of Defense no longer officially recognizes June as LGBT Pride Month, I encourage all of our LGBT members to lead fearlessly and to take advantage of your right to be honest with your fellow airmen. I know this may still be difficult for some, but I can tell you first hand that serving openly is truly a liberating and enriching experience—one that makes you a better leader and the Air Force a better place to serve.