As the Department of Defense recognizes Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month for the first time in its history, Spangdahlem Airmen have worked hard to ensure those within the LGBT community are celebrated for their diversity and service. In support of Pride Month, we recently sat down with Staff Sgt. Richard Rodriguez, 52nd Dental Squadron and Spangdahlem LGBT Pride month committee president, to discuss what it was like being openly gay and proudly serving in the U.S. Air Force.
How young were you when you figured out your sexual preference?
I was a “late bloomer” as many would call it. I had female partners when I was younger — to be a part of the “social norm,” but it wasn’t for me. I became comfortable and accepting of myself when I reached the age of 22.
What was it like growing up? Were you accepted or ostracized?
Thankfully, I am a second generation “LGBT” member in my family. My aunt and uncle on my mother’s side paved the way for me. I saw my aunt, being active duty Navy at the time, become disowned by my grandparents and the rest of my family when she came out; but my mom and uncles stayed by her side. They taught me “love is love” from the beginning and it was something that my family shows today.
When you decided to join the Air Force, did you think you would have to hide your sexual preference or did you feel confident you would not have any issues being gay in the military?
I just wanted to serve my country and didn’t think I would find myself and have to protect it all at once. I had really great coworkers at my bases prior to DADT’s repeal. I felt love, support and trust in many of them, but still from fear when I came to terms with my identity I kept things to myself. There’s always that fear of what may come out from someone trying to defend you, or if you upset them, they could use that against you.
With the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, did you finally feel like you now have the same rights as other service members?
When the repeal of DADT came about, I was pretty involved in the Japan chapter of OutServe-SLDN, we knew it was a small victory, but we had a long way to go before we would become equal members of our respective services.
Editor’s Note: OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) is a non-profit, non-partisan, legal services organization dedicated to actively serving LGBT military personnel and veterans. To find out more information on OutServe-SLDN, visit www.sldn.org.
This is the first time the Department of Defense recognizes Pride Month, how important is it for service members and their families to understand the diverse culture we have at Spangdahlem?
I feel it is very important as Americans and military members, to recognize and know who we work with, and who our neighbors and friends are. We are a country that proudly represents diversity, and by acknowledging the LGBT community we are cementing that foothold.
There are a number of events planned this month — library readings, a discussion panel, an information booth at the Exchange and a bake sale. Do you have anything else planned that will help bring awareness to Pride Month?
We also have an event June 21 at PhantasiaLand near Köln, called FantasyPride. The park will have information booths about what our host-nation does for LGBT members in their communities. The park will stay open until midnight to host a celebration, provide performances and variety shows.
How important is it for you to see LGBT Pride Month succeed for years to come?
I feel it has been a success already. We had our information booth at the Exchange earlier this month and it was welcomed by many people. The community helped us raise $1,500 in two days, to help us plan future events. This is just the first step for us at Spangdahlem and I’m grateful to be a part of it.
What advice do you have for those who may want to “come out” but think they won’t be accepted in the military community?
Everyone fears the unknown — it played a huge factor for me while leading this month’s events. But once you get out there, you will see that people will embrace you. Spangdahlem has an amazing group of people on this base, active duty, civilians and family members, along with services such as the chaplains and the Airman and Family Readiness Center that are trained professionals and here support you. It made the difference for me and many others this month who stepped out to let our presence be known. Don’t let fear run your life.