FORT DRUM, N.Y. (June 26, 2018) -- Members of the Fort Drum community gathered June 25 at the Commons to observe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. Hosted by the 10th Mountain Division (LI) Equal Opportunity Office, the theme of this year's observance was inclusion and Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Dwayne BeebeFranqui served as guest speaker.

BeebeFranqui enlisted in the Navy in 1992 and currently serves as the Force Command Climate specialist at Naval Installations Command in Washington, D.C. He served two tours at the White House Military Office as a member of the Presidential Food Service team; was enlisted aide to the Naval Education and Training commander in Pensacola, Florida; and was selected to serve as the flag chef program manager in executive services at Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tennessee.

BeebeFranqui said that he had experienced hatred while serving 19 of his 26 years in uniform under the former "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law. Originally enacted in 1993, the DADT law permitted gay and lesbian personnel to serve in the military as long as their sexual orientation remained private.

"It was a difficult time, and we faced a lot of obstacles," he said. "I told myself, 'I'm going to keep working hard and I'm going to be true to myself.'"

BeebeFranqui recalled an incident where he returned on board his ship to discover the rack he slept in was filled with grey deck paint and a threatening message. His partner had received a similar message, but with a knife attached to it.

"It was hurtful to me, and it was pivotal in my life to be facing that type of hatred where somebody would do something like that," he said. "Meanwhile, I was in a service where I couldn't say anything, and we faced many incidents like that."

His partner transferred off the ship, but BeebeFranqui refused to give up, and he was named as the final "Sailor of the Year" before the vessel was decommissioned two years later.

BeebeFranqui said that he never thought the DADT law would be repealed.

"It was tough," he said. "To have a life you kept completely separate from work is difficult - not saying anything in fear of losing your job, losing your career, losing your livelihood. I had two kids ... I raised them after I came out to my wife when I was young. Having to tell my kids not to say anything to neighbors or anytime we had a group function, and it was disheartening that I would always have to remind my kids this when they were little, because I was protecting them, but I was also teaching them to lie. That was the unfortunate part for many LGBT people who served under 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' that they couldn't live to their fullest potential and bring 100 percent to the table."

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was repealed on Dec. 22, 2010, but the process wasn't fully enacted until Sept. 20, 2011, which is known as the official Repeal Day. BeebeFranqui said it was one of the most important days of his life.

"It's better for our military and better for our service if each and every one of us can bring the different aspects of our lives to the table," BeebeFranqui said. "If we are able to bring those parts of us to the table to create a more diverse and inclusive force than we are stronger people for it ... and we are a better military for it."

He said that the big news about Repeal Day was that there was no news. BeebeFranqui said that he is not aware of any incidents that followed the repeal, or any negative repercussions because of it.

"We just went about our business as usual," he said.

In 2012, the Department of Defense hosted a single LGBT event at the Pentagon as an Armed Forces-wide observance. BeebeFranqui thought that more could be done, and he wanted to host one for his command if permitted.

"It took several months of planning ... lots of issues arose through the planning process of the first LGBT Pride Month outside the Pentagon ever," he said. "The hoops that we had to jump through, the approval process just to have that event I will never forget. Two years before, if we had tried to do something like that, we would have been kicked out of the military."

BeebeFranqui said that he is proud to attend and speak at other installations that host LGBT Pride Month events because that one event had spawned hundreds more.

"It was just a dream, just a thought in my mind," he said. "Each of you have a goal in mind - whether it is education, a pay grade or getting married. I challenge you all to look in yourself and think about what you want to do in your life - and never give up."

LGBT Pride Month is considered an optional observation in the Department of Defense. Sgt. 1st Class Aquarius Boast, 10th Mountain Division (LI) EO adviser, said that many installation choose not to host this special observance, but that the division has led the way within U.S. Army Forces Command and XVIII Airborne Corps by making it mandatory since 2016.

"And for that, we all should give the 10th Mountain Division leadership a round of applause for showing the LGBT community that they, and their voices, truly do matter," she said.