COLUMBUS, Ohio –
The Defense Federal Community Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Diversity hosted its annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month Special Emphasis Program June 15. The program was offered in person and via livestream from the Defense Supply Center Columbus’ Operations Center Auditorium for associates who were unable to attend.
This year’s theme of “Community, Responsibility and Acceptance,” promoted allyship and inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and queer people in the federal workforce at DSCC.
The month of June has been set aside by Congress to recognize and celebrate the diversity and accomplishments of the LGBTQ community with parades, festivals and awareness events. Most in-person events were put on pause because of the pandemic but Pride celebrations were back again this year in full force with one of the largest Pride parades in the country taking place in Columbus on June 18.
“The congressional measure expresses support for the rights of LGBTQ people and further resolves that LGBTQ rights are human rights and thus protected by the Constitution,” DLA Land and Maritime Director of Operations and Executive Champion for the LGBTQ Special Emphasis Program Griff Warren said in his opening remarks.
“It’s not a coincidence that Congress chose June for the celebration of LGBTQ rights. It coincides with the June 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City which helped to spur the gay rights movement throughout our country and throughout our society,” he added.
Warren introduced the event’s three speakers who addressed the three pillars of this year’s theme. Those speakers were:
- Robert ‘Scott’ Humphrey, trace audit program coordinator for the Maritime Supplier Operations’ Post-Award team and LGBTQ Special Emphasis Program committee chair representing “Community”
- Jiwon Han, branch chief for Supplier Operations Research and Analysis Branch in the Business Process Support Directorate representing “Responsibility”
- Sarah Winegardner, chief of the Fluid Handing and the Nuclear Enterprise Support Office Support Division in Maritime Supplier Operations representing “Acceptance”
Humphrey emphasized that while the adult community is supportive of LGBTQ people, there is much to do to support youth in their personal coming out journeys.
“While the LGBTQ community has been embraced, dare I say popularized, in our modern culture, LGBTQ youth are nearly three times more likely to commit suicide. Many feel unsafe at school and are harassed and bullied. Modern culture may accept and embrace the LGBTQ community but that acceptance is not often felt by children at a time when it is critical for them to be supported to become confident and independent adults,” he said. “Children are often ostracized at school, at home and at places of worship. Pride celebrations are essential to show the younger generation that they are worthy of happiness and love and are accepted for who they are.”
Humphrey said Pride celebrations are the most visible way to promote and support the LGBTQ community.
“A Pride celebration is a chance to stand in solidarity with a unified voice and declare that one of our community’s greatest strengths is our differences,” he added.
And they help motivate youth to actively take action and participate in the greater LGBTQ community.
“More than half of LGBTQ youth say they are motivated to help others. Let’s make sure they have the power to do that,” he said.
Allyship is key. According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation an ally is anyone who supports the LGBTQ community.
GLAAD states on their website “Allies are some of the most effective and powerful voices of the LGBTQ movement. Not only do allies help people in the coming-out process, they also help others understand the importance of equality, fairness, acceptance and mutual respect.”
Sometimes the journey to true allyship is not as simple as flying a Pride flag, attending a Pride celebration or donating to the nearest LGBTQ charity, sometimes it can be a lifelong journey.
For Winegardner acceptance was a large part of her journey in becoming an ally to the LGBTQ people in her life, especially for her daughter, AJ, who came out on her front porch with the active support and allyship of their friends as she arrived home from work one day.
“AJ being gay is not what set me back for a moment,” she said. “It was this beautiful picture in front of me of all these girls ready to embrace my daughter if I did not.”
Which she did. She said she immediately went up and hugged AJ and “told them that I loved them…and then I offered everyone snacks.”
How she became aware that she needed to be an ally, of looking to foster acceptance in all spheres of her life did not start with her daughter coming out. It actually started back in her childhood when acceptance was not given at a family Christmas gathering when she was about 13 years old. She overheard a very negative and unaccepting conversation several of her family members were having about an older cousin who had just come out.
She mentioned that this was her first real disappointment in her family. Some with their lack of acceptance and some with their not speaking up louder that he was still family, that he was still loved, that he was still accepted.
This reaction came from the environment she grew up in: a rural and conservative small town surrounded by farm fields. Gay was not talked about or if it was it was a joke, a slur or a whisper, she said.
While Winegardner did not participate in these jokes she didn’t realize that this was just like that gathering in her family’s kitchen. That it was a place where being unwelcomed was vocalized and acceptance was really quiet and often whispered.
When a friend she had known all through childhood came out in college it dawned on her that the culture at her school was just as damning as it was in her family’s kitchen. She realized that acceptance and allyship could not be whispered. That it needed to be proclaimed and given its space.
That’s when she started becoming an active ally. So active that she went overboard in her acceptance of AJ’s choice by buying a Pride flag, matching Pride earrings, joining Pride groups among other activities thinking she was being a good ally when in fact she was creating an environment that was not accepting. After a conversation with AJ, they created a shared space for acceptance.
She said she finally learned how acceptance is more than just being open and loving but “it’s also recognizing that acceptance needs to be on the terms of the person who is asking for it.”
When AJ came out to Winegardner’s family, it was met with love and acceptance this time and not the silence and cynicism of that kitchen long ago.
“Acceptance is a story of how we evolve, how acceptance evolves, and how acceptance isn’t just us making internal decisions, but is us helping to create and celebrate within spaces that others have helped define to empower them,” she said.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, being an ally is one of the most important things one can do to support the LGBTQ community.
“There is an amazing power of being a Straight ally of the LGBTQ community. By simply showing up to support sends a powerful message of love and acceptance and a message of reassurance that LGBTQ+ people are embraced and supported by their community,” Humphrey said.
Taking responsibility whether it be as an ally or as a member within the LGBTQ community is also important.
Han spoke about her personal journey into taking responsibility and why that matters.
She said that when she hears about responsibility, her mind goes to representation.
“Representation matters because visibility matters,” she said.
Han emphasized that sexual orientation and gender identity is not something that we easily identify within a person. And that is why with the LGBTQ community, coming out is such an important and powerful act.
Han felt it was her responsibility to represent the LGBTQ community soon after the Land and Maritime LGBTQ Special Emphasis Program was formed in 2015 by stepping up and serving as the LGBTQ chairperson from 2016 to 2018.
“I knew that in order for me to have the kind of representation I wanted, I needed to step up, and be that representation. I saw this as an opportunity to support my community,” she said.
She said that stepping up to lead the program was a difficult decision for her at the time, because she was not out to her colleagues.
“But recalling how I felt when I first came out to myself, motivated me to make that my responsibility,” Han said. “And because I am able to bring my whole self to work, I am able to have meaningful relationships with my colleagues and share my life with them.”
She cited a recent example of that openness by sharing to the audience that she got married over the Memorial Day weekend to her wife, Jess, receiving cheers and applause from all in the room.
“I was truly moved by the overwhelming support that I received from my work family who celebrated with me,” she said.
Such a supportive environment didn’t always exist within the federal government. Han said if a person came out in the 1950s and 60s, they would lose their job as a civil servant and during the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, thousands of service members were also unfairly discharged.
She mentioned that the federal government has made great progress in advancing LGBTQ representation, citing that about five percent of the federal workforce identify as LGBTQ and about 14 percent of current political appointees also identify as LGBTQ including two prominent cabinet members.
“Representation matters because visibility matters and visibility matters because it helps us to understand one another,” she said. “As we celebrate our seventh annual Pride month event here at Land and Maritime, I’d like to encourage all of you to take on the responsibility of representation and to embrace and accept each other as a community.”
Anyone can be an ally. You do not have to have someone in the family or know someone who identifies as LGBTQ to support the community. The Human Rights Campaign has a great downloadable resource, “Being a LGBTQ Ally”, that explains what it is to be an ally, how to support someone coming out, definitions and more.
Local resources include Stonewall Columbus, Equality Ohio and the Columbus Chapter of P-FLAG. Other groups and links to national resources can also be found on the Stonewall Columbus website.
Defense Finance and Accounting Service – Columbus Site Director Pamela Franceschi closed the program remarking on how important special emphasis programs are in learning about the struggles and experiences of others and how important it is to accept and create safe spaces for celebration and collaboration.
DLA Land and Maritime Customer Account Specialist Bethany Darby served as the event host and Army veteran Mark Cooke performed the National Anthem.
Also in attendance was DLA Land and Maritime Acquisition Executive Mark Brown and DLA Land and Maritime Chief of Staff U.S. Air Force Col. Christopher Tooman.
The LGBTQ program meetings are open to anyone who works at DSCC. Find out when the next meeting is scheduled by contacting Humphrey via email at Robert.Humphrey@dla.mil.
View the event livestream here (CAC-enabled).