There are snapshots in a person’s lifetime, which you hold transfixed in a suspended moment, like a photograph in your hand, watching dynamic history develop around you in sharp relief. From shades of a blurred and obstructed past, this moment in time bursts into focus as you become acutely aware that you have more than a passive role of participation during a pivotal moment of history in the making.
This past May 2014 marked AMPA’s (American Military Partner Association) Inaugural Gala, where hundreds of military service members and their same-sex spouses and partners traveled from across the United States to celebrate accomplishments in telling their stories and turning the tide, in Washington DC. My wife and I were proud and honored to attend with so many of our brothers and sisters; or as we affectionately call each other, our “fAMPAly”.
You may have seen AMPA on the news over the past couple years. There was a rebel rousing Mama in North Carolina, by the name of Ashley Broadway, who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer when she was refused membership into the Spouses Group at Fort Bragg because she didn’t have proper base ID. (During this time, we were not allowed recognition or ID’s from the Military, even after DADT was repealed. This was a cheap shot by spouse groups to keep us out without saying blatantly that they didn’t want Gays and Lesbians in their group.) (http://huff.to/TiyRcE)
As a former steering committee member of AMPA, current blogger, and proud Navy wife, I cannot say enough about how proud I am to be a part of The American Military Partner Association.
When I found AMPA back in 2010, they were little more than a rag-tag orphan group of invisible and silent partners, hiding under the baseboards of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell laws. At the time, we were under the umbrella of Service Members United (a group for the gay and lesbian service member) I think our original name was Campaign for Military Partners. I used to joke it was a good thing we didn’t add “Hope” to our name or we might have had the unfortunate acronym of C.H.U.M.P.
We had to find each other in the dark, without disclosing our partner’s identities, usually hiding under false names ourselves (or at least false pronouns) to keep our service member’s identity and career safe. We were secret keepers. Our numbers were very small, less than 20, and we clung together in a chat room forum to talk about our pain, our fears, and our heartaches when our service member deployed and we weren’t allowed to say goodbye or to go pick them up in person on base. We longed for the “Welcome Home” Kisses, Holding our banner high, or to wait in a U.S.O. waiting room, but those places were off limit to our kind, and base access was a “visitor” pass, as if we were strangers, only passing through.
In AMPA, Our group trained each other in survival techniques for deployment, how to mail a package, and how long it would be before you could get a phone call from Boot Camp. Some of our partners were also former military themselves, providing great information on military ways of life, acronyms, how to tell time in Military speak, etc. There were also some veteran “invisible partners”, hiding the entire 20 years of their loved ones career, never being acknowledged openly for their sacrifices, and some were even brave enough to move overseas in secret with their partner, cobbling out a living and having to leave the country every 3 months to renew their Visa. I am truly indebted to these brave souls who served as mentors and friends. We celebrated each other’s triumphs and mourned together in each other’s loss.
At this time, before DADT, we weren’t even a blip on the DOD radar. I believe they assumed that homosexuality existed among the ranks, but certainly it was only carried out as a perverted whim or act, not as a real family, with real loved ones waiting at home. AMPA was a life-line, a beacon of hope in the darkness, where we had no rights, no voice, no presence, and no recourse if our loved ones paid the ultimate sacrifice.
In the past five years I have known my wife, I have gone from being a War Protestor and one who was fiercely suspicious of those who represented our military, to being humbled by falling in love with a woman in the Navy.
AMPA taught me not only how much conviction those who wear the uniform have to serve our country and to keep our communities safe, but also how fiercely loyal and strong the partners and spouses are to those who wear the uniform. The sacrifices my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters have made as military spouses are beyond comparison. Waiting and hiding for their loved ones. Waiting off base, in second class citizenship with out of pocket housing, daycare, and medical costs, watching their loved ones go off to war or overseas and knowing they will not be called or contacted if something goes wrong, knowing their right to know is hinged upon the grace of a service members relative who may or may not agree with their “lifestyle”. Waiting to see if they will be allowed to be command sponsored overseas with their loved ones in a country that may not have protections or agreements for gays and lesbians. Waiting to apply for dual citizenship and be recognized as a legitimate married couple, without risk or threat of deportation.
We have been pushed to the side, undermined, denigrated, passed over for promotion or adoption, and given the assurance by politicians and even some National LGBT groups that “this isn’t the right time to make waves”. Each time one of us was shut down, all of us would rise and stand strong, taking each fight as “our fight” to win, and each triumph as our triumph.
LGBT spouses were never in it for the glory, and never imagined a shot at benefits, recognition, education, and rights bestowed upon our straight military spouses. We never imagined going to a Military Ball in attendance with our spouse without calling ourselves a “Friend” or “Cousin”. We never imagined a day without DADT, where our partners would not have to continually look over their shoulder to make sure they weren’t followed or overheard and investigated. We never imagined a time where she wouldn’t have to invert a pronoun talking about her “boyfriend” Adam, when talking to coworkers.
When I told my wife I would wait for her, knowing she had 12 more years to go, we could not have imagined that today, 5 years later, we would be standing before you now, as legally wed wives, with full recognition and with full benefits afforded a military family!
Through online support, in our private network, and also meeting in our local groups across the country, AMPA reaches across borders and biases to each and every gay, lesbian and transgender military spouse and partner to make sure you know your rights, as well as your support system as a family is right here. While 2011 marked the end of DADT, 2012 and 2013 marked living on the precipice of History in the making, as we watched our families being recognized, not only by our community, not only by our state, but by our Department of Defense, and by our President and this administration. This recognition for the LGBT community is unprecedented in our country’s history.
Stephen Peters, President of AMPA, as well as the powerful collective of Jim Cassidy, Ashley Broadway, Chris Rowzee, Lori Hensic, and others who volunteer their countless hours, and expertise, have moved mountains, and taken the nation by storm! With interviews, articles, invitations to the White House, touring the country and talking about issues that are still affecting our families, if the DOD didn’t know we existed before, they are sure aware of us now!
I can’t help but smile when I think of Harvey Milk’s (Who also served in the Navy) words about visibility.
“I would like to see every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, and every gay architect, stand up and let the world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine. I urge them to do that. Urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights.”
It takes visibility and the ability to share our families, share our story, and share our lives with our community. Through this we are not only changing minds, but changing hearts, and dismantling the fear of the unknown.
Coming together to meet my family for the first time was the most joyous and resonant experience of unconditional love and support I have ever known from any group! Instead of feeling anxious about a first time meeting, we hugged and jumped for joy as though these were long lost family members we hadn’t seen in awhile.
We laughed, we cried, and we celebrated as another one of our own Tracy Johnson, along with her parents, received word that she was finally going to see Death benefits for the death of her spouse, retroactively to the date that Donna was killed in action.( http://bit.ly/1lDoSFx )
Her triumph is our triumph, and our story is the story that announces that even in the darkest of days and bleakest of moments, Love will always win.
* If you would like to know more about AMPA, please visit their website