When Brig. Gen. Christopher Sharpsten, commander, 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, made his closing remarks at the Fort Bragg Pride Observance Ceremony, June 15, he summed up a personal philosophy that seems intuitive to service members.
“Prove your worth and I’ll accept you any way,” said Sharpsten, who spoke at the close of a panel discussion between advocates of the LGBT community and attendees.
Panelists included Lt. Col. Kenneth Wical (the father of a gay son); Maj. Nadine Alonzo, who said she came out to her battalion commander in 2012; Capt. Jonathan Roman, an openly gay service member; Staff Sgt. Dominic Celio, an alleged sexual assault survivor in the military who champions raising sexual harassment/assault response and prevention awareness among service members; Devin Lentz, a transgendered woman who runs an organization empowering LGBT persons; Tracy Johnson, the widow of a fallen Soldier; and Shane Zaldivar, an honorably discharged Marine who lives transgendered and fights for the inclusion of LGBT people. It was facilitated by Sarah Sykes, an Army veteran and military spouse.
The Fort Bragg Pride Observance Ceremony held significance as the installation’s first Pride observance since the military lifted its ban on openly gay and lesbian service members with the certified repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011, the extension of spousal and Family benefits to same-sex marriages following the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and since the military began admitting transgender service members in its ranks in 2016. The event was facilitated by Team Bragg and by the 3rd ESC.
Pfc. Jasmine Dilworth and her spouse, Diamond, attended the observance.
“It’s beautiful, it really was and it’s a discussion that needs to be had,” said Jasmine. “It’s so reassuring.”
Diamond said she wants the military to understand that LGBT Families are the same as other Families.
“We have the same issues that a normal heterosexual couple are facing. We face the same things,” she said.
Alonzo spoke of the courage it takes to raise LGBT awareness in the military.
“This is, to me, probably more frightening than jumping out of an airplane,” said Alonzo. “I’m more of a silent ambassador.”
Panel topics ranged from how to find the courage to come out, how to formulate the correct Family readiness group response to LGBT Families, to available resources, as well as chaplaincy services provided to LGBT service members and their Families.
Chaplain (Maj.) Elizabeth L’Eclair, XVIII Airborne Corps said that there are LGBT-affirming chaplains at Fort Bragg and that chaplains can lead simply by being compassionate.
“It’s all about compassion and love,” she explained.
Wical agreed.
“As a leader, just lead by example,” he said. “Just treat people like humans.”
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Pride Month is celebrated in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, which were the catalyst for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States.
LGBT Families are part of Department of Defense Families. According to Ash Carter, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, an estimated 7,000 active and reserve transgender service members on the upper end wear a military uniform. Some figures indicate that there are about 70,000 LGBT members in the U.S. Armed Forces.
“We have Families, too, and our Families are here and they matter,” Diamond said.