FORT BENNING, Ga — Just a few short years ago, such an observance would have not happened on a military installation. But in 2009, the United States lifted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on service members.
At the first ever Pride ceremony to be held on post, Brigadier General Tammy Smith spoke to those in attendance about her 25 year journey in the military having to hide her sexual orientation. Smith, who holds a doctorate degree in management, says the weight of it all had her ready to retire in 2009.
She had made plans to do just that when the ban was lifted on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” With it, she says so was her burden of having to compartmentalize her identity. Smith rescinded her request to retire and continues to serve in the Army today.
Danny Ingram is a former Fort Benning soldier. He says he was kicked out of the Army in 1994 for being gay. He says it broke his heart because he loved serving his country. Being at Fort Benning’s Pride celebration was a personal healing experience for him.
“And that we’re not that different. We love our country. We love serving in the military. They see who we are; they see there is nothing to fear. We are just like everyone else. And that’s what Pride is really about: letting people see who we really are, so they don’t have to be afraid.”
During her speech, Smith stressed to the crowd that coming out is not about making pronouncements about sexual orientation, but instead, about living an authentic, honest life.
She planned the ceremony that took place on post Monday, in part, out of honor and respect for the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shooting massacre in Orlando. On June 12, 49 people were murdered when a mass shooter attacked the central Florida gay club.