DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Dugway Proving Ground observed its first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month observance, June 15 at the Dugway High School Auditorium.
"The month-long celebration demonstrates how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans have strengthened our country, by using their talent and creativity to help create awareness and goodwill," said Philip Krippner, Army's Test and Evaluation Center safety officer who served as the master of ceremonies.
Krippner introduced speakers Payton Bowen, a sophomore student at the University of Utah, Ryan Bowen, Payton's father and Laurie Lee Hall, a professional consultant with Pathway Associates, a nonprofit consulting team dealing in challenging and development situations in Salt Lake City.
Payton Bowen talked about sexual labeling and the pressure to pick a side to identify as an individual.
"Bisexuals are often seen as a people who can't pick between straight and gay," he said. "I think it okay not to pick a word to describe who you are. I just want to be happy."
Ryan Bowen, talked about coaching his son Payton in football during his junior high school days until it was oblivious that Payton was not enjoying the training.
"Though it was difficult at first," he said with emotion breaking his words, "I decided that my priority would be my children's happiness, so I decided to support their choices."
Laurie Lee Hall was the final speaker. She talked openly of knowing that her gender was not correct as early as five years old.
"I was raised as a boy but it was a word I couldn't really understand or explain.
"At seven, I asked my mother what my name would have been if I had been a girl. She said she would have picked Laurie. Sex does not always line up with one's gender. But I knew it would be safer if I pretended to be male," she said.
Hall added that her mother likely knew her gender was different than her physical appearance.
"She would often find her clothes in my room after having played dress up. She would fold them carefully and place them back in her drawer," Hall recalled.
Hall spoke candidly about gender dysphonia, when someone exhibits a strong and persistent identification and the desire for the cultural advantages of the opposite sex.
"It's not a mental disorder, but it can develop serious mental health issues and even physical health risks," Hall said, noting that she had considered ending her life 10 times before seeking treatment.
"Finally, I had to stand in my truth when I could not take that next step, I began Gender Presentation Transition," she said.
This led to many challenges for Hall including losing a job, a profession and attendance in the faith she had grew up in.
Hall's wife, his college sweetheart, choose to support her, "though it was difficult as she gradually watched the man I was disappear," Hall noted.
The couple remains together and Hall recalled her recently saying, "I have lost my husband but not my best friend."
"I am the best version of myself now, the same person my family and friends knew and loved." Hall said. "If I can offer one piece of advice, when you meet someone who is different from you, be kind to them."
Col. Sean Kirschner, Dugway's commander, thanked the sizable crowd of more than 250 attendees for coming. He said that in reviewing if a diversity event would be supported this year, he felt strongly that this was an issue that should be discussed openly.
Kirschner noted that, as an all-volunteer force, the Army seeks to create a team that maximizes individual talents and enhances military effectiveness to strengthen our nation not only for our Soldiers but for all members of Army. He also said that as the services integrate genders into their ranks it's important that as nation we begin an open dialog.
"Why should anyone have to choose between being authentic or to perish? I ask that all of you share what you learned today. It will be a better world," he concluded.