By Rachael Tolliver, Fort Knox Public AffairsMay 26, 2016
Col. Janet Holliday, commander of Accessions Support Brigade, knows what being the "first" is like. She is the first female commander of ASB. She was the first female commander of Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. And, she has been among the first to realize the benefits from career broadening opportunities.
But if you asked her about her favorite "firsts" she might tell you it was the first time she was able to walk down a sidewalk and be herself without fear of retribution.
On the other hand, she doesn't do much public speaking on the subject and would probably prefer to let her wife, Air Force Col. Ginger Wallace, an advocate for LGBT community who was once First Lady Michelle Obama's guest representing the LGBT community at a State of the Union speech, do the talking.
Holliday and Wallace didn't meet until after the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell--and after Holliday had been able to absorb the knowledge that she was free to be herself.
"They announced the repeal two weeks after I finished my lieutenant colonel command so the timing was perfect for me," she explained. "From there I went into a civilian fellowship for the War College ... That gave me a year working in a civilian think tank in D.C.--one of the more liberal places I have ever been-- just getting used to myself again and being honest about it."
"It was so much easier to go through that in D.C. than in some other places. It's taken 5 years, and that was in 2011---this long--- to get 95 percent comfortable."
She said that everyone managed their personal lives differently in those pre-DADT days but for her part, she just didn't talk about her orientation. She explained that she was involved in a couple of investigations early in her career that, in her words, "pushed me so far back in the closet I was in the next room."
"I just didn't talk about it--to anybody, not even my best friend," she said.
But the hardest part wasn't that she couldn't talk about it, Holliday explained that the hardest part of not being able to be herself was having to come out twice.
"The first time as an 18 year old in college, and you go through all that (young adults have to endure) and then having to do it again when I was 45 when they repealed DADT," she said. "Having to tell people that I had known for 20 years---this big thing about me that they didn't know ... I had a few friends that, I think, were really hurt by the fact that they felt like I couldn't trust them.
"But they were in the military and I didn't want to put them in a position of knowing something that they felt like they might have to report. So that is why I didn't tell anybody."
And, she added, she had to be careful who she hung around with. If her "gay-dar" went off she wouldn't hang out with that person or have anything to do with them because, "I didn't want guilt by association because (it can get you in trouble)."
When DADT was signed into law in 1993 the intent by then President Bill Clinton was for military personnel to "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue, and don't harass." The idea was that it allowed members of the LGBT community to serve in the military, and without fear of harassment. Members of the LGBT community couldn't talk about their sexual orientation or engage in sexual activity, and commanders were not allowed to question anyone about their sexual orientation.
But, if a leader found out about an individual's orientation, there was no provision in the law to protect them from not reporting.
After the 1993 policy was enacted, the military discharged more than 13,000 troops under DADT--not because they committed any crimes or performed poorly, but because of their sexual orientation. And Holliday wonders what talent and experiences the military missed out on.
While Holliday was the first women to break through several barriers, Wallace is currently responsible for force development and career field management for the Air Force intelligence career fields. She previously served as the assistant commandant at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center; served in Afghanistan as the director of Operations, Plans, and Training in the Force Reintegration Cell at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, and has led several airlift and intelligence operations.
"Ginger and I have 54 years of active service combined. If we had been separated from service because of orientation, that wouldn't have happened," she noted. "How many years of service has the military missed out on because of policies like DADT? The skills, talent and experience that people bring with them or cultivate with the drive and education they have could have done the military so much good."
Holliday said she has been treated wonderfully at Fort Knox. She said as LGBT people become more comfortable with letting the military community know who they are she wouldn't advise anyone to hide who they really are. But, she added that it's not always beneficial to throw it in people's faces either…"You don't need to wave a flag. You have to pick your battles."
"Revealing parts of yourself is a personal choice," she added. "There are straight people who don't talk about their personal life at work. If it's not part of you to reveal personal life, don't feel you have to. Politics, religion, orientation, relationship status…if you don't share your life at work, then don't."
But she said LGBT Soldiers should be treated like everyone else. Don't let them get away with stuff, don't hold them to a higher standard, but don't hold them to a lower standard. Hold everyone to the same standard, by the same regulations.
Since the repeal of DADT, much has changed in the LGBT community. Military personnel are no longer subject to witch hunts based off their orientation or who they choose to hang around; personnel are no longer discharged for their orientation, rather than misconduct or poor performance; personnel are allowed to marry and start families without fear of retaliation and they no longer have to conduct their lives in the limited space of a "closet."
Holliday said when the repeal was made final there were a few in the old corps, and the media who were looking for a story, who expected the roof to cave in. But no one else did, and they were right. It didn't.
"It's important to see how far we've come---5 years isn't a long time," Holliday pointed out. "When we went to the DEERS office, (to apply for family status) no one batted an eye. Being gay doesn't define you, just like being straight doesn't define you. It's one part of a person's personality."
Today Holliday and her wife split their time between Louisville and D.C., where Wallace is currently working, and both women travel a lot for their job. They "Facetime" twice a day, and try to have dinner together over "Facetime," watch movies or sports event or just do chores so they are together during those time when they are apart. Since Wallace's family is local and she comes to town and Holliday's boss is in D.C., they are back and forth every weekend.
The couple are "sports freaks" and while there is a natural Air Force-Army rivalry there are also differing NCAA loyalties. Wallace is a Kentucky fan, Holliday went to school in Kansas, and is a Kansas fan.
"We were at a restaurant having breakfast near my house in Louisville the day before the Kansas and Kentucky game," she laughingly recalled. "(Wallace) had on her Kentucky stuff and I had on my Kansas stuff and the waiter came over and started talking to us. 'How did a Kansas fan and Kentucky fan get to be friends?' he asked. Ginger said, 'We aren't friends--we're married.' …we all laughed."
Just like all couples.