Free to ask and free to tell

  • Published
  • By Technical Sgt. Tarelle Walker
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- In 1993, a policy was put into place that gave the LGBTQI+ community an opportunity to serve in the military, but restricted them from disclosing or discussing their sexual identity. This policy was called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or DADT and it stayed in place until it was finally repealed in September of 2011.

Today’s Air Force is a much different environment than it was 13 years ago. Topics like diversity and inclusion, mental health and LGBTQI+ challenges are much more openly discussed and more importantly, actions have been taken to bring issues to the forefront for resolution.

Master Sgt. Matthew Groce, 613th Air Operations Center sensor operator, and his partner Staff Sgt. Tristin Amos, 747th Cyberspace Squadron network operations technician, have had contrasting experiences within their military careers as LGBTQI+ personnel, but are now able to serve their country and love one another publicly without fear of unfair consequences.

Years later in his career, Groce can still recall what it felt like to serve under DADT.

“I remember when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was abolished. I was deployed at the time, and I instantly felt a weight being lifted,” said Groce. “The amount of energy I was putting into making sure someone didn’t get a hint that I was different was exhausting.”

Amos, like many other Airmen currently serving, didn't directly experience the restrictions that once existed for LGBTQI+ individuals in the military, but still expresses gratitude for the freedoms they have the chance to enjoy now.

“I am fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to serve well after the repeal of ‘Don’t ask don’t tell” in 2011,” said Amos. “While there is still some prejudice, it is much better than it was almost ten years ago."

In the years since DADT was repealed, Groce and many others like him have stayed around long enough to see things come full circle. Pride Month has now become an official special observance in the military and this progress has created room for individuals to fully express themselves.

“It’s an expression of freedom. It’s a way for the community to feel seen and for our allies to show support. It would be great if we didn't have to have a Pride month, or a Black History Month, or a Native American Heritage Month, etc., but it’s necessary because people are still being made to feel less than, and in some cases physically harmed," Groce said.

For Airmen like Amos who are still serving today, the feeling of pride extends well beyond their service to our nation.

"Pride for me means you can wake up in the morning comfortable in your own skin," said Amos. "To feel secure, safe and accepted by your peers/colleagues without the threat of discrimination and violence. It means you are worthy and deserving of love as you are."