Light shines on AFMC Airmen during LGBTQ+ Pride Month

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  • By Estella Holmes, Air Force Materiel Command

As the word diversity is defined and dissected by organizations, the Air Force Materiel Command is aggressively exploring the means to integrate diverse communities into seamless, inclusive military working environments across the mission.

“It's important for AFMC organizations to be welcoming places for all Airmen, to include the LGBTQ community,” said Keith Tickle, Chief, AFMC Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

To that end, AFMC is deliberately creating community conversations via AFMC-wide sensing sessions on different Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning topic areas, inviting Airmen to speak about their experiences, share their stories, and to raise awareness of local advocacy groups. 

Out front in the effort to encourage, inform and open doors for AFMC Airmen is Brianna Russ, Headquarters AFMC workforce development specialist.

Russ is a member of the Department of the Air Force LGBTQ Barrier Analysis Working Group, whose primary focus is LGBTQ Initiatives. The group’s purpose is to determine what barriers persist that keep LGBTQ Airmen from full integration into the military community.

“We are working on policies for transgender Airmen who are in the middle of their transition, education and awareness activities Air Force-wide and many other projects that have not made their way to the AFMC level yet,” said Russ.

There are major initiatives that Russ, through group interaction, has determined will have the greatest and most immediate impact in the life of an Airman undergoing gender transition. One initiative involves the point at which the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, changes a transgender Airmen’s official gender marker.

The Air Force only recognizes petitions to change from male to female, or female to male genders on the binary spectrum.

“There is no recognition of people who fall in the middle,” said Russ.

Currently, official changes of gender markers occur in DEERS at the end of the counseling, hormone treatment and surgery. The Air Force requires medical treatment for a gender marker to move.

During the in-between stage, patients undergoing treatment are in stasis, beginning to physically look like the new evolving gender, but not quite there. Questions might occur among supervisors and peers on topics like: which restroom facilities should be used, appropriate clothing or the correct pronoun to use when referring to an Airman, as they are neither male nor female.

One line of effort for LGBTQ involves changing the gender marker in the DEERS to when the transition process starts, as opposed to at the very end for assigned male or assigned female at birth Airmen.

Another potentially beneficial initiative Russ’s group proposes is putting gender pronouns in signature blocks of correspondence.

“A seemingly small thing like adding an identifying pronoun in a signature block might help a transgender Airman to be more of their full self at work,” said Russ.

Recently, the Air Force formally established a task force called the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning Initiative Team, or LIT, under the umbrella of its Department of the Air Force Barrier Analysis Working Group.

Maj. Gen. Leah Lauderback, director of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for the U.S. Space Force, leads one of the two recently-created taskforces. The Air Force and Space Forces LIT were created in March 2021 to update military policies which continue to pose barriers to minority service members.

“LIT’s vision is to be the light that illuminates the path toward change, acceptance, and equality for all of those that came before us and those that will come after us,” said Lauderback.

Russ and others on the AFMC team support finding issues that need resolving and recommending changes to Department of the Air Force leadership, educating others on the unique traditions and challenges in their communities, and offering support to members of those communities who are struggling.

On June 1, 2021, AFMC’s policies and practices were reinforced by presidential proclamation through an Executive Order ‘charging Federal agencies to fully enforce all Federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation’.

The Executive order also ‘affirmed all qualified Americans will be able to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States — including patriotic transgender Americans who can once again proudly and openly serve their Nation in uniform’.

“We see you, we support you, and we are inspired by your courage to accept nothing less than full equality,” said President Joseph Biden.

During LGBTQ+ Pride Month, AFMC teams across the command will actively race towards greater understanding and work to increase knowledge of transgender challenges by creating greater awareness of LGBTQ issues and more.

“The AFMC sees transgender Airmen as valued members of a diverse community,” said Tickle.