Pride month: Be you, be proud

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFNS) -- Around the world, LGBT pride is often celebrated with parties, parades, fun and festivities. The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and its allies come together in support of equality, freedom and the movement for civil rights. Nowadays, pride events are largely fun-filled, colorful, recreational functions, but what some don't know is that the first LGBT pride demonstration was inspired by a riot against discrimination. It was a forward movement in the struggle toward liberation and fair treatment.

In 1969, in New York's Greenwich Village, the police raided a gay bar, harassing and arresting many of the bar’s patrons, simply for being patrons. Being openly gay was prohibited in many places like New York City. These raids were common, but on this particular evening, the crowd fought back, leading to an intense and violent struggle between the police and the public. The confrontation, known as the Stonewall Riots, lasted for days, leading to the formation of collectives and organizations united in the fight for their right to simply exist in public spaces without being persecuted or attacked.

This struggle has existed and continues to exist within many systems, institutions and environments, including the U.S. military. After years of forced silence and hiding, LGBT service members are finally able to serve openly, thanks to the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 2011. The policy change was a step forward in creating a safe and supportive environment for all service members to be their authentic selves as they work towards their mission.

Some have questioned the necessity or the purpose of the repeal, suggesting that one's sexual orientation or romantic life may not be important or appropriate to share in the workplace in any event. This argument would be valid if the DADT policy was enforced for all members of the U.S. military, but it only directly impacted LGBT members, implying a sense of deviance or "otherness" to members of that community. Moreover, it associated LGBT identities with shame, secrecy and dishonor, forcing these service men and women to keep parts of themselves invisible and unrecognized.

These types of practices can be very harmful, as they influence a stigma, internalized homophobia and self-hate, and various mental health issues. Though things are changing, as new policies and practices have been implemented to reverse and reduce the harm done to LGBT communities by prior discriminatory actions, considerable effort remains to encourage respect and pride for all identities.

Often, societal norms and expectations cloud our ideas of what gender, gender expression and sexuality should be, diminishing our ability to see what actually is and often leading to rude assumptions and insolence. For example, some people want or expect all men to be masculine. Some want women to be sweet and submissive. Some want the spouse of a married person to be of the opposite sex. And some want young boys to only play with trucks and actions figures. In reality, there are so many variations between gender expression and sexual orientation that it is impossible to box these identities into our own narrow limitations of what someone is supposed to do, or should be. Some women are more tough than sweet. Some young boys prefer the color pink and flowers. And some men are married to men.

The point is that there are spectrums or continuums of gender, expression and sexuality that we all fall within somewhere -- there is no "one size fits all." Moreover, no one should be shunned or discriminated against because they do not fall on the spectrum where someone else thinks they should.

We all deserve the space to be ourselves, and to be seen and celebrated. The world provides us with enough space, and hopefully our minds do too, for all identities to develop and exist without consequence or fear. Our differences are all uniquely beautiful and worthy of love. We also unite across these differences, as they allow us to learn from each other, build with one another, and create shared experiences together.

This year's LGBT pride committee encourages everyone to "Be you. Be proud," while encouraging and supporting your fellow Airmen, friends, and family members to do the same. The freedom to exist fully and authentically is a basic human right that we should all practice for ourselves and uphold for those around us. We hope everyone -- all ages, sexual orientations, genders, cultures, and other backgrounds -- will join us in practicing self-love, acceptance and freedom, while celebrating each other with pride and unity.


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