By Ryo Isobe, FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs
YOKOSUKA, Japan (June 23, 2017) – Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center (SRF-JRMC) joined in celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) pride month, recognizing the contributions of the LGBT community to the Navy and the nation.
The command invited Chief Lynn Michael Sunderman, a gas turbine system electrical technician from the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), as a distinguished guest speaker, who commemorated LGBT Sailors’ service and commitment to the Navy throughout history.
“Our greatest asset are the individuals who guard our gates, repair our ships, fly the planes and stand the watch,” Sunderman said in his speech. “Just as diverse as the jobs we do, are the people who do them daily. This month, we celebrate the LGBT Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and civilians serving our nation.”
According to Chief Sunderman, the acronym “LGBT” carries a wide variety of expressions, interpretations and identifications. It is common to use “LGBT+,” which includes not only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, but also other sexual orientations.
The chief also touched upon the stories of military members who experienced harsh treatment, discrimination and discharges during their service.
For a long period of time, the Department of Defense adopted a policy which absolutely excluded LGBT service members, with several amendments on directives.
Until recently, “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) was the nation’s policy among military organizations. Instituted by President Bill Clinton’s administration in 1994, it stipulated that lesbian, gay and bisexual members could serve as long as they were not open about their sexuality.
While the DADT policy sought to prohibit discrimination against sexually diverse service members, it also barred them from publicly “coming out of the closet.”
“Under ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Sunderman said, “more than 13,000 men and women would ultimately be dismissed.”
Evelyn Thomas dedicated six years to the Marines Corps since 1986, but after being outed by her fellow Marines, she suffered discrimination and harassment. She left the service and participated in multiple civil disobedience activities to attract public attention to the injustice of the DADT policy.
In 2009, Thomas established the Sanctuary Project to aid other service members who are facing similar discrimination.
In the same year, President Barack Obama proclaimed the establishment of LGBT Pride Month. The 2014 celebration marked the first military-wide pride month observance outside the DoD.
In 2011, the DADT policy was officially repealed, allowing thousands of men and women who identify as lesbian, gay and bisexual to serve the country openly.
In 2015, the Pentagon updated the military’s equal opportunity policy to include sexual orientation as a protected class, alongside with race, religion, color, sex, age and national origin.
On June 30, 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that transgender service members in the U.S. military are also able to serve the country openly. However, the Pentagon is currently deferring its acceptance of transgender recruits by six months, said Dana White, Pentagon spokesperson, in a July 1, 2017 statement.
Thanks to these changes, explained Chief Sunderman, it was possible for him to marry and experience Japan with his partner.
“Our backgrounds, experience, race, culture, religion, education, sexuality, height and hair color, all make us special,” Chief Sunderman said in closing. “They also make the military what it is today, an innovative and powerful world-changing organization.
“I’ll leave you with a short quote from Evelyn Thomas: ‘Character is not bought or earned, it is lived.’”