NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do are the core values every Airman lives by. It’s hard to be a person of integrity if you’re unable to live openly and honestly with who you are.
President Barack Obama issued Proclamation No. 8387 for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month in 2009. However, lenience wouldn’t be given for one’s sexual orientation by the Department of Defense for another two years.
Sept. 20, 2011, marked a day in history for lesbians, gays and bisexuals serving in the U.S Armed Forces; that day, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal went into full implementation, allowing them to serve openly.
“It was the day we were able to go to work and be honest about who we were without worrying about reprisal,” said Senior Airman Jason Couillard, U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron photojournalist.
Couillard has served for over almost four years, and it wasn’t until Oct 22, 2012, that he openly admitted he was gay.
“I came out because I was getting into a serious relationship with my (now) husband,” Couillard said. “I was tired of hiding it. Every day, I had to live with the guilt of lying to myself. No longer do I have the burden of being closeted on my shoulders.”
The repeal of DADT has since given others the courage to come out and no longer feel obligated to hide their lifestyle.
Austrie Martinez, a former staff sergeant in the U.S Air Force, had to conceal her relationship with her wife for years.
“I came out because I needed to be myself,” Martinez said. “I was living a double life. It felt like I was selling myself short and cheating on both sides of myself. Plus, I was so proud of my relationship with my wife and the children we were raising together. I wanted everyone to see us and be a so-called ‘normal’ military family like the others around me.”
Although DOD members could be open about their sexual orientation, it wasn’t until 2014 that the DOD could provide federal benefits to same-sex spouses of all its military members and civilian employees.
“I was married with two kids and my wife had no base access. She couldn’t bring our kids to their medical appointments, pick up or drop off from day care, shop at the commissary or even attend ceremonies without someone giving her access,” Martinez said. “Worst of all, it made me feel inadequate as a spouse. I couldn’t give her medical insurance or have her covered in any way and she was just as equal as a spouse of a heterosexual couple. It broke my heart.”
Diversity is more than race, gender, and ethnicity — among other things, it means diversity of thought, ability, background, language, culture and skill.
“It is becoming a different Air Force, a more modern Air Force,” Martinez said. “For someone who is gay with or without a family, it’s totally acceptable to serve your country and be true to yourself. It was something I had wanted for years.
“It’s an amazing feeling to put the uniform on every day and salute the American flag while defending it and America’s freedom. Being able to perform this task as a homosexual American is a huge accomplishment and I’m proud we were able to come to this decision as a country. It shouldn’t matter your preference if you are willing to defend freedom both foreign and domestic,” she said.