By Mitch Meador, Fort Sill TribuneJune 27, 2019
FORT SILL, Okla. (June 27, 2019) -- Reynolds Army Health Clinic Command Sgt. Maj. Dina Pang's resume contains an astonishing list of accomplishments: a master's degree from the University of North Alabama, civilian certifications for the Professional Association of Diving Instructors Advanced Open Water Diver and American Institute for Avalanche Research, and over 23 years' service in the Army at 10 different installations, to include one combat tour in Afghanistan.
But on June 20, the Singapore native stepped to the Patriot Club podium to address something else that weighs heavily on her mind: LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Pride Month. She began with the usual welcoming remarks, thanking her wife, Irma Castillo Pang of Midland, Texas, "for being here to support me today."
"I am proud to serve in this diverse military and take pride in all who serve. As members of the military we accept that we are a part of something much greater. Our nation and our military has been widely successful due to its unique diversity. Diversity and inclusion is celebrated in the Army. It is an inclusive culture, which is why we're so effective. Having pride and showing support for everybody is crucial to all human beings. It is when we are accepted (that) we shine.
"We share a collective commitment, and in this commitment we have pride in all who serve. As depicted in the video (that preceded her talk), this month marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. The Stonewall Riots were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. Its participants shaped a new cultural awareness for a population that was largely ostracized. The Gay Liberation movement has taken great strides in the past decade. And yet, LGBT members do not have federal protections, and prejudice still looms over this nation for LBGT members.
"Just a few years ago, on June 12, 2016, 49 people were murdered and 53 others wounded in a mass shooting inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
"In America, discrimination happens. Whether it's a lesbian couple on a bus or a gay couple walking home from the club who is verbally assaulted, spit on, or physically assaulted, discrimination still happens. Because there are no federal protections for LGBT members, someone can get fired from their job, denied access to a business, kicked out of their rental home, denied adoption, or sent to conversion therapy as a teenager just for being LGBT. These are reasons why we have such observances as the one we're having today and why June marks the month for LGBT Pride in the United States.
"LGBT individuals face disparities linked to social stigmas, discriminations, and denial of their civil and human rights. Due to disparities, I want to speak of an internal battle. Something that every single member of the LGBT community struggles with, and that something is connection. It is something as simple as connection that makes someone feel ostracized from the greater community. It is the core cause of some behavioral health issues that members of the LGBT community struggle with.
"Discrimination against LGBT persons has been associated with high rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Experiences of violence and victimization are frequent for LGBT individuals and have long-lasting effects on the individual and the community.
"Personal, family, and social acceptance of sexual orientation and gender identification affects the mental health and personal safety of individuals. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults are twice as likely as their heterosexual adult counterparts to experience a behavioral health issue. LGBT people are at a higher risk than the general population for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. Youth 13-24 who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual are five times as likely to attempt suicide compared to their heterosexual peers.
"Forty-eight percent of all transgender adults report that they have considered suicide in the past 12 months, compared to 4 percent of the U.S. population. That's 12 times that of the national average.
"On a basic human level, what people need most is connection. The lack of connection is something members of the LGBT community struggle with, due to something as simple as connection with family, friends, religion, community, and society. That is a basic human need.
"I served through 16 years of 'don't ask, don't tell.' Serving through that silence shook me to the core as an individual. It changed me as a person, and it changed my personal interaction with others. And, it cost me a lot of personal relationships with family members, with friends, and my church.
"Today, LGBT members still struggle with being accepted not only by local community members whom they live among, but also amongst their peers while serving in the military. Even after the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell.' And even after marriage equality has been protected throughout the nation.
"Most, at first inclination (who believe) they are gay, reject it. Their first thought is that they don't want to be gay. They will suppress companionship with others for fear of what others might think. That becomes emotionally and mentally exhausting.
"Now that I'm out and proud, and not living in the shadow, I have allowed myself to show my authentic personality. I am a much happier person. Why am I speaking to you, the audience, about this? It's because I feel each and every one of us can make a difference. Right?
"If a man who has a boyfriend or a husband wants to come out to his church and work(place), his first inclination is going to be, 'Will I be accepted?' If a person who is born in a woman's body identifies as a man, his first inclination will be, 'Will I be accepted?' 'Will I be accepted?' runs through the mind of every single LGBT person through their interactions every day, especially with people who don't know their true identity. It happens when they first come out ... It happens when they move to a new duty station ... When there's a new member of the organization, whether it's your team, your squad, your battery, you have to come out again, and once again that thought goes through your head ...
"It would be easy if everybody was accepted. Right? But sometimes the interaction is great. You come out, and there's no reaction. Sometimes people might say one thing to your face, but you hear of an act or something that they do behind your back. And then sometimes people just blatantly discriminate.
"It is a question though with every new interaction. I say that because I myself have been rejected by my own family, friends, and church. This is an everyday struggle, when I have to decide if I want to share my personal life with others. Sometimes most of us don't talk about it, because we've gotten so used to facing it in all our daily interactions. From every person who's living out and proud, there's another who's still afraid to tell anyone who they are. Not living your authentic life is sad, and a depressing way to live. It is why the behavioral health problems are so high amongst the LGBT community.
"This year's theme is 'Pride in All Who Serve,' because it takes all of us to be accepting and to be proud of every member of our organizations. To speak highly of one another, to set aside personal opinions when somebody expresses something that's personal to you, and speaking up when you hear someone being discriminated (against). It is going to take every last one of us.
"Having pride and showing support for everybody is crucial to all human beings. It is when we are accepted we shine. We share a collective commitment, and in this commitment we have pride in all who serve."
Joe Gallagher, deputy to the commanding general of Fort Sill and the Fires Center of Excellence, introduced the speaker. Gallagher welcomed guests to "this inaugural LGBT Pride Celebration. This is the first time we've done this at Fort Sill, and it's overdue. We're looking forward to continuing to do this throughout the years to come."
However, in an article then contract journalist Monica Guthrie wrote for The Fort Sill Tribune in 2017, an LGBT Pride Month luncheon she covered that year was actually the third such event on post. These were sparsely attended, and when asked, she said there wasn't one in 2018.
Emceeing this year's luncheon was Sgt. 1st Class Gildardo Ramirez, Equal Opportunity adviser and mediator for the 434th Field Artillery Brigade. Staff Sgt. Myles Moore played the national anthem on violin, and chaplain (Capt.) Tanya Bindernagel gave the invocation.