PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - Five LGBT service members told their stories of struggle and acceptance, including one Airman who almost lost his dream career, in front of a packed house at the Presidio of Monterey, Thursday, June 27.
"I fully expected to come into service, keep my nose down, not dare pick my head up unless I wanted to be mocked and ridiculed for who I am," said Airman 1st Class Nathan Kemmerer to 250 of his peers at the military's annual LGBT observance. "I'm glad to report I was wrong."
Many on Thursday spoke about family strife, the toll of having to constantly come out, and being forced to "taste asphalt,"; but like Kemmerer who is a transgender Airman, they all spoke of the acceptance found in their new military family.
The pride celebration came one day before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots - a landmark event in the LGBT fight for equality that saw patrons of a New York City gay bar push back against a violent police raid on June 28, 1969. Then 42 years later, in 2011 the military ended the 'Don't Ask Don't Tell ' policy, allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly, and in 2016 lifted restrictions on transgender troops.
Defense Language Institute Commandant Col. Gary Hausman told the crowd at Weckerling Center that he believes LGBT troops have always served in the U.S. military, citing a belief amongst some historians that Revolutionary War hero and father of the Army's Non-commissioned Officer corps, Baron von Steuben was a gay man.
"[Steuben] was characterized as having affections for members of his own sex," Hausman said, citing historians. "He was being accused by the military of Prussia... for being a homosexual."
Prussia's loss became America's gain as Steuben trained an upstart nation's Army and defeated the largest empire at the time for independence.
Hausman then addressed what he called the "elephant in the room."
"How many heroes do we have in our military that are, or were, openly gay? The shame is that we don't know," he said.
Kemmerer said he found many of his first military heroes at his new Monterey home. Diagnosed with gender dysphoria in June 2018, Kemmerer was dis-enrolled from class and slated for separation under policy changes affecting some transgender service members.
"I was fully expecting to be chopped-up, boxed-up and sent back home to Philadelphia," he said.
His leadership then told Kemmer they would "fight this," even as they handed him separation papers.
Three months later Kemmerer won back his "dream" of being an Airman.
He now rocks a 3.5 GPA, has been Airman of Quarter and is president of the Teal Ropes - Airman who fight sexual assault and harassment. He'll graduate as an Arabic linguist in early 2020.
"Without the love, care and support from those around me," said Kemmerer. "I would not be here today."