Fort Hood’s Equal Opportunity Office hosted its first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month observance June 25 at Club Hood.
During the event, guest speaker Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Army Reserve, shared her personal story of serving in the Army as a lesbian.
“My goal is to defy stereotypes,” Smith said of agreeing to speak. She hoped one person would leave the event thinking, “I never thought about it that way.”
Smith and her spouse, Tracey Hepner, traveled together from Fort Belvoir, Va., for the event.
The two met 10 years ago, but for more than seven of those years, Smith’s relationship with Tracey Hepner was a fireable offense.
Hepner said she had to take a moment before the event to really take it all in.
“Less than three years ago, I couldn’t even exist. ... (Today) I was a guest of the commander,” she said.
“It was really emotional,” Hepner said of watching Smith speak. “Especially the couples that came up to us today and expressed their gratitude. .... They had an opportunity to introduce themselves, their partners, wives and husbands. By the third or fourth one, it was really emotional.”
More than 200 people attended the event, giving Smith a standing ovation after she spoke.
For Maj. Mary Miller, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, listening to Smith’s story was very familiar, she said.
Miller and her spouse, Denise Lancaster, experienced issues similar to Smith during deployments. For both Army officers, their spouses couldn’t get support from the Army, because their very existence would ruin their Army careers.
“I’m glad she was able to come here and share her story,” Miller said.
The program also included six civilian and soldier volunteers reading the presidential proclamation recognizing June as LGBT Pride Month.
First Lt. Omar Villa, of III Corps, was one of the volunteers. He was in his ROTC program at North Georgia College and State University when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed and said he has never really faced any issues since arriving at Fort Hood about a year and a half ago. In January, he married his spouse, Matthew Lowery, in Seattle and the two were excited to attend the pride event.
“Any challenge we’ve faced, isn’t in the military,” Villa said. “In my section, I’m blessed with people who totally accept me. ... Any problems have been off post.”
After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, the federal government soon began recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples. Some states, including Texas, still do not.
“I’m proud of him in this situation,” Lowery said. “I know we are in a red state, so I’m proud of him for stepping up.”
Capt. Robert Caruso, an openly gay chaplain with 4th Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, gave the opening and closing prayers. He said he appreciated Fort Hood making such an event possible. Not only was listening to Smith’s 22-minute speech inspiring, Caruso said, it showed those struggling with similar issues in their personal life they are not alone.
“There’s someone out there who knows a little bit about what they’re going through,” Caruso said. “It’s helping those to seek out people to help them with their journey in life.”