Saturday, June 14, 2014

These Times, They Are A Changing

The other night while channel surfing I saw something that I never dreamed I would see. There, right on the American Forces Network, a.k.a. AFN, the military's satellite answer to watching American television, I saw a promotion for their recognition of June as LGBT pride month. Now AFN regularly recognizes special interest groups during "their" months; women's history, black history, African-American, military children and Pacific Islanders. I know I'm missing some groups but you get the idea. But I do believe this is the first AFN has openly recognized the LGBT community. For me, it is a long awaited and very welcome first that shows that even the most stalwart of institutions can slowly change their ways.

It was just less than three years ago that the Department of Defense's Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT)17- year - old policy prohibiting military personnel from discriminating against closeted gay and lesbian military members was overturned. The act prohibited commanders and coworkers from asking military members about their sexual orientation. In turn it also prohibited bisexual or homosexual military members from disclosing their sexual orientation or speaking about their same sex relationships while serving in the United States military. Those that did speak openly about their sexual orientation were to be discharged from service. Needless to say, during its existence, the policy was controversial for many reasons. To me, it felt like a sad compromise between the gay community and people who are uncomfortable with those who are different from themselves. This same policy that allowed LGBT service members to continue serve their country as long as they didn't discuss their personal lives, forced them to essentially live as second class citizens who were not afforded the same rights and privileges as their heterosexual counterparts. But the end of DADT theoretically lifted this black cloud.

But fortunately the days of DADT are behind us and the military is trying to adjust. Within our small circle of active duty military friends the end of DADT has been mostly welcomed with relief and open arms. From what I've seen and heard others haven't been so open and welcoming. Some members of the LGBT community are coming out while others are choosing to remain closeted. At least the option is now theirs to make and their decisions will no longer negatively impact their careers. For its part, the Department of Defense has now mandated that educational and sensitivity workshops on LGBT issues are a part of ongoing training. And, institutions like AFN are talking about it through their recognition of the LGBT community is a part of the larger military community.

A vast variety of programming is planned for the month. I rarely watch television so it is unlikely that I will catch any of their special programming but the very fact that this network, whose news favors FOX over NPR, is recognizing this segment of our society, is exciting. This recognition has been a long time in coming. I don't believe for a minute that discrimination and bias towards the LGBT community will suddenly disappear but this is an important first step. As long as the baby steps keep coming, the movement will be in the right direction.

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