Garrison hosts LBGT Pride Month celebration

Lt. Col. Gittipong Paruchabutr talks with Ashley Broadway-Mack, an advocate for the rights of LGBT military families, after her guest speech on June 28. (Photo by Tynise Jones)

For years, Ashley Broadway-Mack was referred to as her son’s nanny and not his mother.

During that time, she and her then-partner Heather Mack, an Army officer, had to hide their relationship.

“The identifier definitely stabbed me in the heart and soul every time the term was used to identify me,” Broadway-Mack said. “I was his mother. However, I knew this is what we must do so that Heather could continue to serve her country.”

Broadway-Mack, an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered military families, shared her experiences as a spouse and mother in a military family during Fort Meade’s observance of LGBT Pride Month.

The hourlong event, hosted by the Fort Meade Equal Opportunity Office and the garrison, was held June 28 at Club Meade.

The event featured a video of early LGBT advocates in the military, a display of LGBT Pride T-shirts and an exhibit of important events in LGBT history.

A small buffet was provided by Club Meade.

Sgt. Jamie Robinson of the 704th Military Intelligence Brigade served as the emcee. Staff Sgt. Ronnie Moore of Kimbrough sang the national anthem.

Making Progress

Broadway-Mack was one of two guest speakers for the event.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Moreno of the 308th MI Battalion shared his experiences as a gay Latino man.

“Today we acknowledge the painstaking labor of LGBT Americans whose personal sacrifices and determination were instrumental in the struggle for civil rights,” Robinson said. “We celebrate the progress we have made in ensuring equality for all individuals and take pride in all whom we serve.”

“Integrity and respect are fundamental qualities of our military and civilian culture. We continue to take great pride in all that these men and women contribute to the nation and our mission. Their hard work, courage and sacrifices make them respected members of our diverse military family.”

During her speech, Broadway-Mack recalled that being referred to as her son’s nanny was part of a stark reality that other LGBT military and civilian couples faced until two important legal landmarks were made.

In 2011, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” a 1993 law which allowed gays to serve in the military only so long as they kept their sexual orientation private, was repealed.

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a significant part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.

According to The Washington Post, the court declared that gay couples married in states where gay marriage is legal must receive the same federal health, tax, Social Security and other benefits that heterosexual couples are entitled to.

Broadway-Mack and Lt. Col. Heather Mack, liaison officer of U.S. Transportation Command, were legally married in 2012. They are the parents of 7-year-old Carson and 4-year-old Carley and live in Alexandria, Va.

Broadway-Mack is the president of the American Military Partner Association, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that connects, supports, honors and serves the partners, spouses, families and allies of LGBT service members and veterans.

She also is the recipient of the Secretary of the Army Public Service Award and the Commander’s Award for Public Service.

LGBT Pride Month is celebrated every June to observe the Stonewall Inn riot in New York City. On June 28, 1969, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn, a gay club on Manhattan’s Christopher Street, staged an uprising to resist police harassment and persecution against the LGBT community.

“The uprising marked the beginning of a movement to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against the LGBT community,” Robinson said. “LGBT Pride Month commemorates these events and works to achieve equal justice and equal opportunity for the LGBT community.”

A Stronger Future

To bring the experiences of LGBT military families to life, Broadway-Mack shared how she and her wife met nearly 20 years ago in Columbus, Ga., and began a relationship that had to be kept secret from family, friends and other service members.

Broadway-Mack was beginning her career as a teacher while Mack was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga.

At that time, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was DoD policy.

Broadway-Mack said that despite the law, she was able to PCS five times with Mack.

“We even figured out a way for me to go to South Korea with her for a year,” she said. “For almost 15 years, I was known as her friend, roommate and cousin.”

Broadway-Mack said that when the law was repealed, “LGBT families came out of the shadows and proudly stood by those that they loved.”

“As you can imagine, my family was elated.”

But Mack was deployed soon after the repeal, and Broadway-Mack said she had to celebrate their newfound freedom alone.

“During the lonely days of that deployment is when I began my advocacy and reached out to other LGBT families, trying to get a sense of what their life was like,” she said.

Although “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was no longer enforced in the military, many LBGT families still had no legal rights. When an element of the Defense of Marriage Act was declared unconstitutional, LGBT couples were finally recognized by the federal government and the DoD.

Broadway-Mack said it was a victory, but in many states there are still laws that bar LGBT families from housing, employment and adopting children.

“This is why I do what I do for our families,” she said.

Broadway-Mack said public awareness and education about the struggles of LGBT military families can help military leaders understand that “your LGBT families may be dealing with issues that are out of their control.

“We’ve certainly come a long way and, hopefully, have an even stronger future ahead of us with the progress we have yet to claim.”

In his speech, Moreno, who was born and raised in Lima, Peru, shared how he slowly began to accept his sexual orientation and later became an advocate for LGBT rights, as well as for people of color and low income.

He is the recipient of the Donna Johnson Equality and Valor Award from the American Military Partner Association and the Leadership Award from the Clinton Foundation.

Moreno immigrated to the U.S. at age 15 and enlisted in the Army in 2003. However, he said that coming to the realization that he is gay was not easy.

“I felt very different early on,” Moreno told the audience. “But at that time, I did not know what it was and did not have a name for it. I just felt different.”

Moreno said he realized he was gay in his early teens and heard the insulting names and terms that have been used to describe LGBT people.

“A middle-class family, traditional values, Catholic schooling —among other issues were some of the issues I had to overcome before coming out, first to myself, and then to the rest of the world,” he said.

Better Leadership

Moreno struggled to find his place as a new immigrant in the Latino community because there were few people from his homeland. He also struggled as a gay man.

But, he said, “that never stopped me from pursuing my dream and to fight for equality.”

As an advocate, Moreno said that in his work he always encourages equality and respect in the workplace and in life. He urged the audience to support the work of the American Military Partner Association.

“Ensure that any service member and their spouse are given the support and guidance needed to allow them to have the same rights and benefits you enjoy” Moreno said. “It’s not a big task, but with your commitment, we can all progress together as one.”

After the speeches, Lt. Col. Gittipong Paruchabutr, commander of Headquarters Command Battalion, presented Broadway-Mack and Moreno with plaques of appreciation.

“Because of you, I’m a better leader because of what I have learned today,” Paruchabutr said. “ … I’m proud to stand with you.”

Capt. Mike Hamilton, 742nd MI Battalion, said he attended the event to support the Equal Opportunity Office. The stories shared by the guest speakers, he said, embody the “perseverance and resiliency” that are reflected in the Army’s values.

“That is what we are all about,” Hamilton said.

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