Fort Benning celebrates annual LGBT Pride Month
By Lindsay Marchello, Bayonet & Saber /
Fort Benning held a special event for LGBT Pride Month June 27 in Derby auditorium.
Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith, the former commanding general of the 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), spoke at the event about the purpose of celebrating LGBT Pride in the military.
“Pride isn’t about anyone’s personal life. Pride is a celebration of authenticity,” said Smith. “We celebrate Pride because the military’s an organization that values its people. We celebrate Pride because we value being a meritocracy, where everyone who works hard, leads from the front and lives Army values has an equal chance to be successful and rewarded with increased responsibility.”
Smith explained that the purpose of Pride in a military setting was the same as any other diversity event.
“The organizers (of the event), they seek to inform, to educate, to defy stereotypes and to help those in attendance more closely examine internally held biases that might inhibit an inclusive workplace,” said Smith. Smith emphasized the importance of pairing diversity with inclusion. She explained how diversity is having a seat at the table, but inclusion is having a voice at that table.
Smith discussed her personal story of being a member of the LGBT community in the Army and how treatment of the LGBT community in the military has changed over the years.
Smith spoke about the challenges that she faced from the very start of her Army career.
“It was who you were, not your behavior, just your mere being, your mere existence beginning in 1981, that was too egregious to have any association with the military,” said Smith.
Smith explained how members of the LGBT community had to keep their identity a secret in the military and live two different lives to keep from being discharged.
“(The LGBT community) all loved wearing this uniform so much that we were willing to self-marginalize in order to be part of something that was bigger than us,” said Smith. “We loved everything about what the values this uniform represented in such a way that we were fine with living those two separate lives in order to be able to serve.”
Smith explained that everything changed for her when she met her future wife, Tracey Hepner in 2004.
“When you have found the person who you love, keeping those two lives separate no longer becomes quite as simple as it was,” said Smith.
Smith married Hepner in March 2012 after Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed in 2011. She was later promoted to general officer and became the first openly gay general officer in the Army.
“I tell you that story so that you have an understanding of what it is like to have to hide and to live those two lives,” said Smith. “The trip to authentic leadership starts with being honest.”
Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence presented Smith with a token of appreciation from Fort Benning.
Smith acknowledged Danny Ingram, the president emeritus of the American Veterans of Equal Rights for his work pursuing equality for LGBT Veterans.
“He was discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and I wanted him to have the opportunity to be recognized, and I hope it feels a bit full circle from his start here as an Infantryman, to his experiences in his unit being discharged and to the good work that he has done,” said Smith.
Find more photos at Fortbenningphotos.com.