Being Your Authentic Self – by Vicki Hudson
For many, the idea of being out in their units and military communities remains a challenge and potential land mine of risk. Each one of us that steps out of that closet though, makes a huge difference and breaks the trail just a little more.
Yesterday, I had lunch with a NCO that was my SGM when I was a the operations officer on a General Officer’s staff (the G3). This was before DADT was close to repeal. My daughter was less than a year, and my wife and I were struggling with how to get her into DEERS and not out me in the process. At lunch, I was happy to be able to talk about the kids, and my wife with the now Command Sergeant Major and commented on how difficult that had been for me, when I couldn’t tell anyone how I, the unmarried, no boy friend, never been pregnant, officer suddenly had a baby to register as a dependent and the dance to not lie but not expose either. CSM said he’d figured it out. We laughed. Moved on.
Later at lunch, he commented how he was probably the most gayphobic guy ever. But because of our professional relationship, even though we never ever discussed anything that would have validated his assumption, he’d changed.
We’ve been out of contact for several years as he went to his first CSM assignment with a battalion and I took command of my battalions. When we emailed back into contact, I wrote my old phone number was no good, after the DADT repeal, I no longer needed a firewall between my army life and rest of my life so now had one phone number. During lunch he commented how that really woke him up to what my professional life must have been like before the repeal. And the challenges post repeal as one of the first openly gay field grade level commanders.
Then he told me how his experience with me, had prepared him for his leadership challenges now with lesbian and gay soldiers in his formations. He commented on the brave front runners who are out now, taking that risk, and making people like who he used to be change their minds, become educated, and be greater prepared to respond to all their soldiers needs.
And then he told me a story about a senior NCO of his that had struggled with career decisions, but couldn’t really open up. And he made a guess that part of it was about being gay in the military. So he told the Solider about me. And that opened the door and he was able to help guide the Soldier to a solution.
And I had to smile when he said “God put us together back then, to prepare me for some of what I face now.”
There were consequences on my career being the one that said something before the repeal when gay bashing language was used, being the one to stand between the superior harassing a junior, being the lone out gay soldier in a brigade located in the south and a commander to boot with a brigade commander that “just don’t think gays should be in the military.” There were consequences to being one of the plaintiffs in the SLDN suit begun weeks after the repeal was in place that challenged the definition of spouse regarding military members and veterans.
I thought about all that in a fleeting passage of images in my mind when that CSM indicated how living my authentic life as a Soldier and leader that just happens to also be a lesbian was important for all those still waiting and hidden. Because it made a difference to soldiers and it has made a difference for him to be a better leader when he took care of his soldiers.
He’s a key leader at a NCO Academy.
You never know where the ripples in your pond will lead.