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Proud of Our LGBTQ+ Service Members

As society continues to strive for equal rights, we rejoice in progress as it comes.

The story of progress is told through milestones achieved and small victories that have come throughout the years. Several of these triumphs affect our military community and have served to increase the diversity and strength of our fighting forces. During the early 80s, the Department of Defense banned gay and lesbian men and women from serving in the U.S. Military. This policy remained in place until 1993 when Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) was instituted. This new standard allowed closeted LGBTQ+ individuals to serve, but if their sexual identities were revealed, they would be discharged from service. With the repeal of DADT in 2011, gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women were allowed to serve while being open about their sexual identity. Progress continued as we marched through the early 2010s and benefits were extended to same-sex partners and - finally, a temporary ban on transgender service members in 2016 was repealed in 2021.

While these achievements have been monumental steps forward in our march to equity and inclusion, we still have a long way to go in making everyone feel accepted for who they are and valued for what they contribute. In celebration of Pride, we are highlighting members of the LGBTQ+ community for their outstanding service and contributions to life in the Tri-Base. Look for these highlights on our socials and our blog.

Each week in June, check back here for a new highlight featuring an outstanding member of the LGBTQ+ community right here at RAF Lakenheath!

Major Andrew Zimmer

Major Andrew Zimmer has been serving in the Air Force for 14 years as a Force Support Officer, and he's been the 48 FSS Commander for about a year here at RAF Lakenheath!

What the best thing is about the LGBTQ+ community in the USAF?

The amazing support is absolutely the best thing! Since the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 2011, I have felt welcomed and encouraged to be myself. When I got married in 2018, my spouse was treated just like any other spouse, and I'm grateful that the Air Force acted so quickly to enact policy changes to support people and families in my situation.

If you'd like to share, please tell us your personal story:

I clearly remember the day that Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed in 2011. I was uncertain of how people would react when the change took effect. Would there be questions? Would people look at me differently? Would there be an announcement from leadership, or would it just simply happen? I think the most surprising and in some ways uplifting part of the occasion was that it was just like any other work day! Many people forget that LGBTQ members have always been serving in the military, and it was a relief to be able to just come to work with a new-found confidence to continue my military service.

Are there any resources, groups, or advice you'd like to share with our audience?

Just be proud to be you!

MSgt. Elizabeth Z. Soske

MSgt Elizabeth Z. Soske enlisted in 2005 as a Loadmaster and cross trained as Aircrew Flight Equipment in 2006. She served at Spangdahlem until 2009, Cannon AFB until 2011, McConnel AFB until 2019, Kunsan AB until 2020, and is currently serving at RAF Lakenheath. She's had three deployments to Iraq (2007), Afghanistan (2014), and Incirlik (2017). MSqt Soske has been at RAF Lakenheath since 2020, and is currently a Unit Deployment Manager.

What is the best thing about the LGBTQ+ community in the United States Air Force?
Given just my career history, the repeal of DADT in 2011, Gay Marriage in 2015, Transgender Ban Repeal 2022, I find the resilience and determination of the community to keep moving forward to be amazing.

If you'd like to share, please tell us your personal story:

A traditional tale of a midwestern trans woman. I had no idea of the LGBTQ community and did not grow up in a supportive environment or to learn. I struggled early on with identifying who I was, and finding a community was quite difficult. A divorce in 2011 was timed conveniently with the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT). After I confirmed that I was not gay, I was honestly left with more questions than answers. All of my friends for the next few years were members of the LGBTQIA+ community as that felt the most right, but at that moment in time I was just the straight friend of the group. After a lengthy stay in Korea thanks to our good friend COVID, I had time alone with my thoughts and feelings. I was able to learn more about the trans community, but decided that I was too old and that it was easier for my family if I just remained as I was. After the election in 2020, and the Air Force designing robust programs for trans safety, I decided that I would be the largest hypocrite in the world to not act on my beliefs and feelings. How could I tell my Airmen that anything was possible, that their leadership would support them, that they would be happier if they followed their dreams… If I wasn't brave enough to follow through on my own. I started my transition officially in 2022, and have never looked back. Discovering that it's NEVER too late to be happy.

Are there any resources, groups, or advice you'd like to share with our audience?

This webpage has guidance on changing names and genders on, socials, licenses, passports, etc. listed by each state. An absolute must for anyone transitioning.

LGBTQ Resources

LGBTQI+ Health & Well-being from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

https://www.samhsa.gov/behavioral-health-equity/lgbtqi

Legal and Financial Consideration for Lesbian and Gay Service Members from Military OneSource

https://www.militaryonesource.mil/financial-legal/legal/legal-and-financial-considerations-for-lesbian-and-gay-service-members/

LGBTQ in the Military: A Brief History, Current Policies and Safety

https://www.militaryonesource.mil/relationships/support-community/lgbtq-in-the-military/


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Monday, June 17, 2024

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