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First Navy Pride event makes history

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Written By: Lance Ryder  1/7/15

“…celebrating victories that have affirmed freedom and fairness…” –  President Barack Obama

History was made Tuesday when NAVAIR North Island celebrated their first LGBT Pride event. While other Pride observances have occurred in the past, yesterday’s event was the first “official” observation at the sprawling naval base, and the first on the West Coast. The purpose of the Department of Defense event was to teach others about the diversity of communities within the department, and the historic gathering was one the command was proud to host.

Rock-infused blues provided by Rhythm and the Method, fronted by the openly lesbian and soulful Rhythm Turner, filled the auditorium while attendees found their seats. Everyone then stood as the colors were presented and Chief Windwalker, a member of the Cherokee nation in full native attire and a life-long  LGBT ally, sang the national anthem.

Captain Timothy Pfannenstein, commanding officer for the Fleet Readiness Center Southwest, welcomed everybody to the “pioneering event”. Pfannenstein observed that “a diverse workforce makes us stronger as a team” and that their mission is to “protect the cultural diversity we celebrate today.”

The emcee Ms. Kristy Salazar, a co-host of the online radio program “Out of the Closet” and a reporter for the Equality News Network, introduced the featured speakers for the panel discussion. First to speak was retired Army Colonel Sheri Swokowski.

Swokowski, the nation’s highest ranking openly transgender individual, spoke about how the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) was a moment “she would never forget” and recalled the tears of joy shed upon hearing the news of the discriminatory law’s repeal while working at the Pentagon. She has been a tireless advocate of transgender rights in the military since transitioning to her “authentic self” in 2006.

Swokowski reminded attendees that there are “68 transgender people for every 10,000 active and retired military personnel”, which translates to approximately 3,000 active sailors, 1,600 marines, and 134,000 veterans. Although progress for transgender personnel has been made, she works for the day when “no one serves in silence” because “discrimination has no place in the armed forces.”

The next speaker Jacquelyn Atkinson, a decorated veteran of the United States Marine Corps with a long history of community advocacy and volunteering, reminded attendees that “we stand on the shoulders of LGBT pioneers.” She reminded people that “we can’t live on hope alone, but we can’t live without it, either.” Atkinson also spoke about the need for openly LGBT leadership in the armed forces stating “we must never fail in our duties as leaders of future generations.”

The final speaker Fred Karger, the only openly gay candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, spoke about being a closeted man who became an “accidental activist” during the battle against Proposition 8. Speaking about LGBT youth in America, Karger said “Even though we lost that battle, we awoke a sleeping giant.” He cited the Supreme Court’s recent historic decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide and urged people to continue striving for equality. Karger said “We will prevail. They can’t stop us.” He also offered encouraging words to everybody, stating “There are no more limits in this country. There is nothing you can’t do if you’re LGBT in America.”

The panelists then answered a series of questions posed by Ms. Salazar. Many of the responses focused on the need to combat bullying and to address the high rate of suicide among service members in general, and transgender service members in particular.

Ms. Kristy Salazar thanked the panelists and closed the proceedings with her take away from the days events. Salazar urged everybody to “be courageous in your walk. The world needs to hear your stories.”

Afterwards, attendees enjoyed refreshments and rainbow cupcakes while viewing the Proud to Serve exhibit of personal portraits, each of an active member in the armed forces. A reminder that while much has been accomplished, there is more to be done until LGBT members are fully integrated and equal in our armed forces.

Source: LGBT Weekly http://lgbtweekly.com/2015/07/01/first-navy-pride-event-makes-history/

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