Women in Uniform: What it’s like to be a lesbian in the military

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On September 20, 2011, we witnessed the end the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy in all branches of the United States Military. It was a huge stepping stone for our community, and we rejoiced that our LGBT military family would finally have the freedom to be open and honest about who they were and what they stood for, if they chose to do so. This monumental moment in our history changed all of our lives because we saw a glimmer of hope that, finally, we were being heard.

However, for the LGBT members of the military, along with the feeling of victory, came a feeling of fear.

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Staff Sergeant Jennifer (last name withheld) has been a member of the United States Military Reserves for the past 14 years. Although she was young when she joined, she knew it was time for her to do something extraordinary.

“I had hit a place in my life when I knew that I needed a big change and took the opportunity to join the military,” Jennifer said. “It was the best decision that I have ever made.”

Although excited about the new life that awaited her, she had some apprehension about being a lesbian in the military while DADT was still in place.

“I was not out when I first joined,” Jennifer said. “And one day, the drill sergeants made fun of one of the girls in front of everyone because they thought she was gay and this was really scary. I was afraid I would get kicked out once they knew.” 

For some military members, even though Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is no longer the law, they maintain privacy about their lives because of fear of being treated differently than others or not being taken seriously about their desire to serve our country. “Being out now is still something that is very new,” said *Anne, an SSG in the U.S. Army. “It’s not something I scream from the rooftops for everyone to know. I don’t want to have some bigot ruin my career in a paper trail for something other than me being gay, when actually that’s why they are writing me up.”

Things can feel a little different for those who joined the military after DADT was repealed.

“It was struck down just before I joined, so I was pretty excited,” said Sarah, an Army specialist. Although Sarah may not have felt the direct impact of DADT, when she arrived at basic training she was in a platoon with a female who was previously kicked out because the drill sergeants found out she was gay. “

Once the DADT repeal was enforced, she tried again,” Sarah said. “It was sad to think that not long before I met her, she had been sent home for that.”

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Some may think keeping your sexual orientation a secret means you are ashamed, yet the LGBT members of the military in particular, have been forced to keep this a secret for so long and have seen people getting hurt and/or kicked out simply because they are gay, that it is no wonder that some of them continue to maintain their private lives as private.

“Still to this day it is something I keep to myself,” Anne said. “And yes, it’s partly because I worry that it’s something I could still get in trouble for.”

Aside from dealing with life as a lesbian in the military, life as a female can also pose to be difficult at times.

“The military is still by far a man’s world,” Jennifer said. “I believe there are instances when women do not get jobs above a man simply because they are a woman. I think there will always be some men that see women as weaker, we just have to find ways to overcome this.” 

Overcoming your gender in order to not seem weak sounds like an impossible task, at least to civilians, who have not endured the tests of strength the way those in the military have. However, it is not impossible, it just takes a little more work.

“The guys I work with know better,” said Anne. “They know I will snatch them up real quick and I won’t put up with it. If girls are getting mistreated it’s because they allow it to happen and they do nothing to change the situation.”

Although it may seem that the negative outweighs the positive, all of these women wouldn’t change their decision to join the military and would encourage others to do the same.

“It was the best decision I have ever made in my life,” Jennifer said. “The military has instilled dedication, integrity and loyalty in me and I will always be thankful for my choice to join. It is now amazing to know that if something happens to me, my partner would have all of the same things to take care of her as any straight couple.”

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“The military is an incredibly diverse organization, so you won’t be alone,” Sarah said. “And you will meet people who you will literally trust your life with and you will experience things that you just can’t anywhere else.”

“So much has changed since when I first joined,” said Anne. “I applaud any woman who is ready to step up and challenge the men.”

As time has progressed, we have seen our country jump leaps and bounds towards acceptance of the LGBT community, yet throughout the military community, the steps that are being taken are slow and deliberate. Although some are more willing to be forthcoming about their sexual orientation, others are more private and that’s OK. The mere fact that our LGBT military are given the choice of whether they want to tell or not, is what is most important.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy