Story by Chuck Cannon on 07/03/2019Pride in all who serve
JRTC, Fort Polk host LGBT Pride Month observance
Guardian staff writer
FORT POLK, La. The 32nd Hospital Center hosted the Joint Readiness Center and Fort Polk LGBT Pride Month Celebration at Warrior Gym June 27.
The event began with a question and answer panel consisting of three Soldiers Capt. Jessica Villanuevo, Commander C company, 317th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, who has served 11 years in the Army; Sgt. Charles Morrison, 317th BEB, 3rd BCT, 10th, Mtn Div, who has served in the Army for four years; and Spc. Jessie Rine, 115th Field Hospital, 32nd Hospital Center, who has served three years in the Army. The Soldiers were asked questions about their personal experiences while serving in the military as members of the LGBT community. They shared their history with the audience to promote insight and better understanding.
Below is a question and answer from each:
How has being open about your sexual orientation had an impact on your military leadership style? Villanuevo said she felt it has made her more empathetic.
"I think I'm a more compassionate leader as I'm more sensitive to issues dealing with gender, race and sexuality.
What kind of past behaviors have you noticed from your leaders, peers or subordinates when they found out you are a member of the LGBT community? Morrison said he has had a colorful range of reactions.
"Most of the reactions end up being positive. A lot of people are supportive and understanding. The most important thing is making sure they understand that no matter what I do in my off time, I'm going to do my job well," he said.
If you could erase one LGBT stereotype from the mind of anyone who has that thought, which one would it be and why? Rine said he would try to erase the idea that equates bisexuality with promiscuity.
"The stigma is that we tend to be greedy or will be with anyone. The reality is, just like anyone else, is that we have types, preferences and standards. I think it's important for people to realize these things," he said.
Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, JRTC and Fort Polk commanding general, commended the panel for their courage in speaking about their experiences.
"Their comments should affect each and every one of us, whether you are a leader or Soldier in the formation. What they talked about is accepting the strengths of each Soldier and what they contribute to making this the world's greatest Army," he said. "Everyone in this audience today is going to walk away a better Soldier based on what they talked to us about today."
Frank presented each panel member with an installation coin.
Col. Lee A. Burnett, 32nd Hospital Center commander, said he was pleased his unit had the honor and privilege of hosting the 2019 LGBT Pride month event.
"This is Fort Polk's opportunity to recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Soldiers, as well as civilians and Family members, for their dedicated service to our Army and nation," he said.
Burnett said throughout history, LGBT Soldiers have served, fought and died for this nation.
"Their readiness and willingness to serve has made our Army stronger and our nation safer," he said. "We value all of our Soldiers and their Family members."
Burnett said, "As we celebrate Pride Month, let us take pride in those who step forward to serve our county. All who answer the call are doing the noblest thing they can do with their lives providing security for others so they can dream their dreams, raise their children and live full lives."
Lt. Col. Melissa F. Tucker, Fort Polk Dental Health Activity commander, was the guest speaker for the event.
Tucker offered a personal example of how far the LGBT community has come.
"I want to thank my better half for attending. When we first started dating, it was against the law. We had to do that in secret. She was just my best friend. We always lived in fear that someone would find out. It's really nice that now I can introduce her as my wife," she said.
Tucker said in 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an iconic speech.
"In that speech he said he had a dream that his children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I think most of us have that same dream; we don't want to be judged by what we look like, whom we worship or whom we love. We want to be judged by our character," she said.
Tucker said those in the LGBT community are just like everyone else.
"We want to be loved, love someone, have a community of friends and family and participate in the pursuit of happiness just like everyone else. We all want the same things in life," she said.
Tucker said acceptance begins at a grass roots level.
"Change is not going to be a Supreme Court decision or a presidential declaration. We want to be treated with dignity and respect and that starts when we treat others with dignity and respect. Then it catches on like wildfire," she said. "I hope the world continues to change in a positive way. But that's up to us. Let's be that change."
Frank said the Army is driving that change.
"We as an institution set an example for the entire nation. The better we are at ensuring we look at all Soldiers equally, the more our nation will do the same. The U.S. military is the most respected institution in the nation. That means the American people watch and learn from us. I hope everyone leaves this event today remembering what our guest speaker and panel talked about and go out and put it into practice in our Army," he said.
Attending the celebration, Capt. Luisa Montero, 32nd Hospital Center, said, "The Pride Month celebration is important because our diversity is what makes us strong as a nation and an Army. Regardless of our background we should be able to support and respect each other. We all have something to offer."
Staff Sgt. Benny Mason, 710th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd BCT 10th Mtn Div, said he attended the event to support positive changes in the LGBT community and the Army.
"When I joined the Army, Don't ask, don't tell' was in effect. I know people that were kicked out based on who they were. To see this celebration means we have come a long way," he said.