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DHA’s LGBTQIA+ Service Members Share Their Stories with Pride

Image of PRIDE month infographic. The Defense Health Agency held PRIDE Month events throughout the month of June to celebrate the diverse workforce that keeps America safe (Graphic by MHS Communications).

In discussing what brings her joy, Army Maj. Alivia Stehlik remarked, "One thing that brings me so much joy is [knowing that] I belong here because I am a person...We all have something that makes us unique, but all of those things kind of mean the same thing in the creation of who we are."

Her words remind us of the importance of finding joy in one's identity and having a supportive community to help us navigate the intricacies of life.

In June, Stehlik and other members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, etc. (LGBTQIA+) community joined a virtual panel discussion series to share stories of pride, joy, and community building as they serve our nation.

These panel discussions, moderated by psychological health center of excellence psychologist, Dr. Margaret Baisley, highlighted the Defense Health Agency's observance of Pride Month.

Stonewall Uprising: the beginning of pride month

Pride Month commemorates the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, a struggle between the New York City police and members of New York's LGBTQIA+ community who sought to assert their rights to live openly.

On 28 June 1969, police executed a raid on the Stonewall Inn, a tavern whose patronage was largely LGBTQIA+ Americans, over an alleged liquor license violation. This event led to protests throughout the nation in support of LGBTQIA+ rights and was a major contributor to the modern LGBTQIA+ rights movement.

The U.S. has honored pride month annually in June since 1970.

Finding joy and community through conversation

Since the Stonewall Uprising, our nation has come a long way in supporting the rights of LGBTQIA+ Americans. In 1998, President Bill Clinton issued Executive Order 13087, prohibiting federal employers from engaging in discriminatory practices against LGBTQIA+ Americans.

There has been greater emphasis on conversations taking place between LGBTQIA+ Americans and their allies. Having conversations is one aspect that the panelists said was an important part of their experience of joy.

Air Force Capt. Julian Moreno remarked, "Vulnerability brings me joy because it helps other people empathize. I find joy in the fact that I am able to advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community and that people are willing to ask questions."

Air Force Airman First Class William Rife added, "We can have conversations that are uncomfortable as long as you come to it with empathy."

Another member of the panel, author and poet Seema Reza added, "What brings me joy is being here with all of you and creating space for others to be included," she stated.

Going Forward: Be Willing to Listen

When asked what the nation could do to help those in the LGBTQIA+ community, Army Sgt. First Class Kristina Manookin replied, "The first thing that needs to happen is listening. It's hard to know how to help a group if you don't listen to the group."

The celebration of Pride Month is an important sign of our progress as a nation in building a culture that values diversity and inclusion. However, we must continue to strengthen those values and create a society where the ideas and contributions of LGBTQIA+ Americans are heard and appreciated.

Diversity and inclusion are critical components of our national defense, and LGBTQIA+ Americans have helped lead the way in strengthening our national defense. We must do everything in our power to create space for these Americans to contribute to our society and to fight against any sign of discrimination directed toward them.

The celebration of Pride Month offers an invaluable opportunity for LGBTQIA+ Americans to be heard. This is a critical step to fostering positive change.

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