Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Thank You to the LGBT Military Families

The government has made it clear that until DADT is fully repealed, it is still in force, they will not acknowledge the families of LGBT service members. They were deliberately excluded from Tuesday's launch of the First Lady's Military Families Initiative where the Obamas thanked and gave honors to the families that serve and support our troops.

You will need a tissue when you read this.

Support ALL our troops and their families.

Keori :: Introducing and Thanking Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Military Families
We are the loved ones of closeted gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers. We come from all walks of life. We are all colors, religions, creeds, professions, and political affiliations. The one thing that unites us is that we are the same-sex partners of United States servicemembers.

Because of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act," our families go unrecognized, unprotected, and hidden from necessity. We face the same challenges as straight military couples - the PCS moves every three years, the deployments, reintegration, injuries and PTSD. We also face additional challenges such as acquiring gainful employment and healthcare in each new duty station, moving families at our own expense, and teaching our children to never, ever talk with their friends or teachers about Mommy and Mama, or Daddy and Papa. Sometimes, we are left behind altogether due to a PCS move to an overseas duty station. Our goodbyes are said behind closed doors, in secrecy and silence.

Our families live with little things, seemingly trivial parts of the closet all LGBT people are familiar with. When our partners' fellow troops chat about what they did over the weekend with their spouses and children, they "hung out with friends" instead. When his command has picnics or other "family days," he goes alone or not at all. When he receives an award or is promoted, no one is there to smile, take pictures, or pin on his new rank, like recognized spouses are. When she reenlists, there is no certificate of appreciation acknowledging our sacrifices as a spouse, and no handshake from her C.O.

It means bigger things, like no commissary benefits, which would cut down on the grocery bill in these tighter economic times. It means we must do whatever it takes to stay employed, because there is no access to Tricare coverage for health care, like a real spouse would have. It means denying our children the healthcare to which they would otherwise be entitled. It means always having a fake second bedroom set up in the house so that if someone from the unit comes over, we're "just roommates."

It means life-altering, heartrending things. It means our partners being sent away to overseas duty stations where we cannot follow. Unlike opposite-sex spouses, we cannot receive command sponsorship to live with our partners on base. They will not receive separation allowance as compensation for being taken away from their mates. It means living through year-long deployments to combat zones with no support, and no knowledge of what the unit is doing. It means sending care packages from PO boxes and signing cards with the name of another person to protect their secret. It means never saying, "I love you" on a Skype call, when they and we need to hear those words the most, and talking in code instead. If something happens to them, we will not know unless their parents call. If something happens to us, they will not be told, or be allowed to come home to be with us, as a spouse would. They will not even be allowed to acknowledge their pain lest it give them away to their chain of command.

It means that we do not exist. Our families are isolated, closeted, and struggle on our own to make it through the bad times. We are ghosts, never fully manifesting our true selves. Always we hide in the shadows, our faces hidden lest we compromise our loved ones' secret identity.

It is a hard road that we, the Silent Partners, have chosen to walk. Yet we do so, out of love for our country, and love for our servicemember. We live like this, endure these things, out of love. Our core values are Honor, Courage, Commitement, Integrity, and Service Before Self.

I would like to personally thank every single "Silent Partner" and child out there for being a part of our military family. You are an indispensable part of our community. You love and support our troops, despite your very existence being denied by the government. You care for them, nurture their children, and keep the homefires burning while they are sent to fight other people's wars. You are amazing. I love each and every one of you.

Silent Partner
Photo copyright Jeff Sheng 2010 and Kaycee Olsen Gallery. Used with permission. To see more of Jeff Sheng's work documenting the men and women who live under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," go to

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