Engage

Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Twitter
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
Logo
Facebook
2,143,915
Like Us
Twitter
463,323
Follow Us
YouTube Google+ Blog RSS Instagram

Shining a Light

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

As a child, locked away from the world in her bedroom, books taught her to dream of worlds beyond the dark realities of inner-city Chicago.

Senior Airman Kayla Dale belongs to a few different minorities: she is a female service member, an African-American and lesbian. Now 21 years old, she has faced scrutiny and battled stereotypes her entire life, she said. She remembers the prologue, but insists on telling her story her way: with a smile.

"My life’s motto is 'I want to be the light I see in the world,'" Dale said. "If I shine my light bright enough on others, maybe it will spark a flame and inspire them."

Growing up entrenched in a city and community suffering the effects of gang violence and poor public education, Dale vowed not to become a statistic. She found a muse and creative outlet by reading and writing.

"I saw some bad things growing up," said Dale, who is now a 51st Maintenance Squadron non-destructive inspector at Osan Air Base. "Fights, violence and shootings were normal to me, so I was in books all the time. The life outside just didn't mean anything to me because I had my books."

Determined to get out of the city and make her own way, she joined the Air Force Sept. 27, 2011 -- less than a year after Congress enacted the Don't Ask Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010 – allowing Dale and her peers to serve without hiding their sexuality.

"I wouldn't have been able to hide who I am under Don't Ask Don't Tell," Dale said. "I'm an open person. I converse freely and couldn't do that with Don't Ask Don't Tell."

Joining the Air Force opened volumes of opportunities for her, she said. Since 2011, she's been able to travel, learn and become the kind of role model she wants to be for her 15-year-old brother.

"I love the Air Force and my job," she said. "The military allows me to be the most amazing person that I can (be)."

Although she's excited to be starting a new chapter of her life in the military, Dale said she frequently thinks of her family in Chicago.

Her aunt, Abena Sharon Dale, a freelance photographer in Chicago and also lesbian, said there's a great conflict in Chicago, and she understands why her niece wanted to branch out.

"I love Chicago," Abena said. "It's full of creative artists. There is no better place to be culturally. However, younger people have different challenges than most adults. Chicago is plagued with some people who do not respect life."

Drive-by shootings, turf wars and frequent conflicts, even among school children, are vivid footnotes in Dale's past. She remembers witnessing a fight between two grammar schools located blocks from each other.

"This was a huge brawl," Dale recalled. "Forty people with bricks, smashing people’s heads open. I knew girls that went to school with razor blades in their mouth. That was normal, and it shouldn't be."

With dehumanizing conditions swarming around her, she found shelter between the lines of her favorite stories.

"Reading saved me," Dale said. "It helped me dream big and stay out of trouble in the neighborhood."

Abena remembers her niece's love for reading and poetry growing up too.

"Kayla was always reading growing up," Abena said. "She wrote her first poem at age 7 or 8 and was bold enough to perform an unwritten poem off the top of her head in front of people. She's always been determined, insightful and curious."

However, the novels of Toni Morrison and poems of Maya Angelou weren't just entertainment for Dale. They inspired her and she resolved to not let her story be drafted by her surroundings.

"I was determined to be on my own," Dale said. "I was determined for my children not to grow up in the same environment and be dehumanized like I was. I was determined for my children not to know some of the horrible things in Chicago."

She turned the page by joining the Air Force, a move that concerned and surprised a lot of people.

"I was initially apprehensive about her going into the service," Abena said. "Now I'm a little less nervous because of the branch of military she chose. I'm very proud of her. She knows who she is at such a young age and dares to live boldly."

Initially concerned that homosexual service members wouldn't have the right to legal marriage, Dale said she's thrilled at the progress made in the Air Force and Department of Defense.

"I was afraid that it would take a long time for gay marriage to be acknowledged," Dale said. "If it wouldn't be acknowledged by the end of my six years I wouldn't have stayed in. I'm very proud to be able to serve in a force that acknowledges people are people despite sexual orientation."

While she said she's been treated with equity and respect in the Air Force, as a double minority, Kayla acknowledges she's been fighting preconceptions and social backlash her whole life.

"Chicago is one of the most racially divided cities I've seen," she said. "At a young age you're taught instinctively to flock to your own kind. People definitely have prejudices about you based on your skin color. It's not at all like it is in the military."

In addition to racial bias, her sexual orientation has caused her backlash in the African-American community too.

"In a lot of ways, the gay community and the black community are at odds," Dale said. "Growing up, I was told being gay was wrong. That if I was gay I would go to hell."

These teachings put her in denial as a young woman.

"I grew up liking girls, but I wasn't accepting of my sexuality at first," Dale said. "I didn't want to be gay. I tried to prove to myself that I wasn't gay."

After coming to terms with her sexuality and admitting her attraction to a girl in December of 2007, Dale waited years to come out because she was afraid of what her parents would think.

"I think my parents suspected for a while because when I was 14 my mother told me that if I was gay it would break her heart," Dale said. "My dad wasn't happy about it when he found out either. I was scared of coming out to people. I was scared of people not wanting to be my friend. I was scared of people thinking I wanted them when I didn't."

Criticism from her parents upset Dale because she looks up to them, she said. She praised her mother's cooking and credited her father with instilling a great work ethic in her and teaching her to be an independent person, but she remains unflinching.

"It's disappointing they have such a problem with it, but this is who I am," Dale said. "I've learned that I have to be happy with myself, and if other people can't accept it then that's their problem."

Coming out has affected her spiritually, too. Instructed in Christianity growing up, Dale still has a strong faith in God, and said it hurts when people use religion to attack homosexuality.

"I'm struggling right now with my feelings toward the Bible," she said. "It made me question myself growing up because I didn't want to be gay. It's a struggle I still have. I love me, I love who I am, and I love the Lord. In my mind, the Lord can't be angry with me for loving someone, despite what a book says."

While she understands people who disagree with homosexuality on a personal level, Dale thinks everyone deserves equality.

"Even if you don't think it's the best thing in the world, I don't see how anyone can be ok with depriving people of human rights," she said. "I deserve to get married so when I die, my significant other isn't just a 'long time friend.' I deserve the right to adopt and raise a child. All I ask for is acceptance and respect, even if you can't understand me."

Kayla found that opportunity for acceptance and respect in the Air Force, where she's been supported and treated with equity and tolerance. Just being accepted isn't enough for her, she wants to excel.

"I'd love to stay in and make chief," she said. "I think I can do it, and I want to fight the stigma of being black, female and lesbian. I want to show the world that I am more than a category."

Moving beyond personal goals and achievements, Dale said the overarching theme of her life is about loving people and brightening the world around her.

"I want to be the light I see in the world,'" Dale repeated. "The world is a very dark place. There are good people, but a lot of dark places. I come from a dark place, so I know that when you have a light, you share it."

Her story is far from finished, with characters to be developed, narrative arcs to play out, divers details to be forged and decades to live before going to press, Dale said it's important to look at people beyond the binding or cover. People are greater than what they appear to be and what's most important to her, she said, is making the world a little brighter for the people she comes in contact with and teaching people to author their own lives.

"I'm Kayla Dale," she said. "I happen to be black and I happen to be gay. Those (characteristics) don't define me. What defines me is I want to make the world a better place. What defines me is how hard I work and my ambition. What defines me is my smile. Not who I sleep with, and not what my genetic makeup is. I don't want that to be what other people define me as. I want to be an Airman who cares about her work and cares about people."
USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.
comments powered by Disqus