By Mr. Bryan Gatchell (Benning)June 25, 2018
FORT BENNING, Ga. (June 25, 2018) - The Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning held the observation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month at Fort Benning, Georgia, June 21.
Col. Karen J. Roe, the 21st Signal Brigade commander from Fort Detrick, Maryland, served as the guest and spoke to an audience of Soldiers and civilians.
When she first heard she had been invited to speak at the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Roe thought it possible she could be there to talk about leader development, talent management, or the Army's future. The invitation to speak as part of LGBT Pride Month surprised Roe.
"While I do fit into that category, I fit into so many more important categories that it didn't even occur to me that someone would want me to come and speak to you about that," she said. "There are about a thousand categories that we all belong to, and being gay happens to be one of mine."
Roe's talk focused on the Army values, her career, her life, and the conflict of her sexual orientation being at odds with her profession.
"As a military brat, I had seen the culture of the Army - the professionalism of our NCOs, the commitment of our officers, the challenges and opportunities of our Soldiers, and the strength of our Families," said Roe. "I thought this is the type of organization that I want to be a part of. I want to be a part of an organization that judges people on their abilities, their competence, their value and most importantly their commitment to serve."
Nevertheless, who she was, according to law, was at odds with being a Soldier. Until 1993, gay and lesbian personnel were barred from serving in the military.
"Officers, NCOs and Soldiers were not allowed to serve openly and were separated dishonorably," said Roe. "So what should I do? I love Soldiers, I love the Army, I love our nation, and I want to serve. So what type of choice is that for anyone, to choose their profession or their life?"
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a law enacted in 1993 that allowed gay and lesbian personnel to serve in the military as long as they were not open about their sexual orientation. Because of it, Roe was able to continue to serve, but there was still a significant compromise on her part.
"I strove to serve each formation I was assigned to to the best of my ability," said Roe. "I dated discreetly because I knew if anyone found out about my relationships, I would be separated. And the women I dated knew that they were always second to my first love, the Army."
That law was repealed in 2011, allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve the military openly. Furthermore, in 2015 the Family and Medical Leave extended coverage to all legally married same-sex couples, and the definition of "spouse" became defined not by a same-sex couple's state of residence but by their "place of celebration." This was an important distinction before the Supreme Court ruled state bans against same-sex marriages were unconstitutional, a ruling that happened later in 2015.
Roe recently married her wife, and she feels good about her career.
"My chain of command supports us, my Soldiers don't care, and my professional life is probably the best it's ever been," said Roe. "I believe this is because my two loves are now nested."
Speaking to the assembled Soldiers, Roe talked about how equality related directly to them.
"With U.S. Army on your chest and a flag on our sleeve, you already wear the greatest symbol of equality and values known to the world," said Roe. "This uniform is recognized for strength, commitment and values. Our American republic was born with the idea that we are all created equal, endowed with the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Aspirations we have should not be limited by our race, our gender, sexual orientation or any other classification, and yet we hear so much about discrimination and separation."
LGBT Pride Month was recognized by the federal government in 1999 - then as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. It takes place in June in recognition of the Stonewall Uprising, a significant event in June 1969 in the modern gay and lesbian civil rights movement.
Roe, on the subject of LGBT Pride Month and other similar observations, ultimately demurred.
"Someday we will move past all of these months proscribing celebrations of our differences," she said. "Instead we will celebrate all professionals for their commitment, for their service, for their value. Each of us will be evaluated on the content of our character."
To learn more about LGBT Pride Month, visit "ARMY STAND-TO" in the "Related Links" section on this page.
For photos from the event, visit "PHOTO ALBUM" in the "Related Links" section on this page.