FORT STEWART, Ga. – Pride Month is currently celebrated each year in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, New York. The Stonewall Uprising was a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. In the U.S. the last Sunday in June was initially celebrated as "Gay Pride Day."
Now celebrated the entire month of June, the US Army recognizes its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning service members and civilians for their dedicated service to both the Army mission and to our nation.
“Pride Month to me is an opportunity to highlight diversity,” said Maj. Donald A. Schmidt II, the executive officer of the 9th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. “It’s to recognize the hard work that others put in, in the past to get us [the LGBTQ community], where it is today, especially across the services.”
Schmidt, a 36-year-old Latham, New York native and LGBTQ Engineer officer, grew up as an Army brat. He went to seven different grade schools and two different high schools.
“Growing up an Army brat is hard on anyone, but it allowed me to meet people from all walks of life, share in their experiences, introduce them to my experiences and grow,” said Schmidt.
In 1994, the Department of Defense adopted the policy “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as the official federal policy on military service by lesbian, gay and bisexual service members. The rule was considered discrimination against LGBTQ service members by stopping them from being open about their gender identification and sexual orientation.
DADT was based on the assumption that the presence of LGBTQ individuals in any branch of the military would undermine the ability of people to carry out their duties. Throughout the policy’s life, thousands of brave service members were discharged simply for who they were.
“If you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve, and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve,” said Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III in January 2021.
Schmidt who started his military career as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 2003 and commissioned four years later in 2007. He started serving when the DADT policy was still in effect.
“It was not too long ago, that it was essentially illegal to serve openly, under DADT,” added Schmidt. “The hard work, dedication and conviction of strong men and women before us set conditions for me, and others in the LGBTQ community to serve openly."
"In 2011, DADT was repealed, and there was not this mass disruption of unit cohesion across the force. In my experience, people and service members, in large part, did not care," said Schmidt.
Shortly after the repeal, Schmidt met his spouse Matt before deploying to Afghanistan.
“We connected through a dating app as I was leaving for a deployment,” said Schmidt. “Once I left, we kept in touch writing to each other, pretty much daily, old school pen pals, when we each had time to do so.”
Shortly after Schmidt’s nine-month deployment, because of the operations tempo the Army has, the couple had to make the decision quickly, to continue dating or part ways.
“We chose to stick it out, move in together, and move to the next adventure the Army had in store for us,” added Schmidt.
Now in year five of marriage, the couple spends their time traveling, striving to maintain a healthy lifestyle and relationship at home, and hopes to one day expand their family beyond fur-babies.
“I grew up in a loving and cohesive family," said Schmidt. “Matt and I want that for ourselves one day too. Growing a family in a same-sex relationship presents its own set of challenges, financially, timing and legally. But it is something that Matt and I want to do, raise a child or children in a loving family.”
At the moment, Schmidt is focused on his profession and serving those he leads.
“Professionally, I’m here to serve. I told myself when I commissioned after many discussions with my father, who retired as a Command Sgt. Maj., that I should not set unrealistic goals, to stay grounded and work hard, and if I take care of enough Soldiers, accomplish the right missions, and continue to grow, the Army will remain a place for me,” Schmidt explained.
Schmidt conveyed that the simple but complex Army initiative “People First” is the hardest thing leaders do.
“Leaders, all of us, can have either a positive or a negative impact on others,” said Schmidt. “I believe observances, like Pride Month helps and reminds us that we are all different. To really put ‘People First’ we have to recognize these differences, embrace and learn from them before we can truly put our Soldiers and Families first.”
For Schmidt, it all comes back to recognizing each Soldier for who they are as an individual and how those individuals can come together as a team.
“If we get that right,” concluded Schmidt. “All the rest, tied to readiness, lethality and cohesion, everything that makes it possible to do our jobs and serve effectively, will come easier.”