Pride Month: A Piece of Progress

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Leon Redfern
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Multiple people around the world continue to be routinely subjected to harassment, oppression, persecution, violence and in some cases considered a crime merely for being themselves. Communities can face discrimination because of who they love, how they look or where they come from.


The LGBTQ+ community is no exception to this unjust and prejudicial treatment.


In honor of Pride Month, U.S. Air Force Maj. Sammy Leos, 35th Surgical Operation Squadron, Specialty Clinic Flight commander, physician assistant, shared his thoughts and experience on openly being a part of the LGBTQ+ community while serving in the military.


“I'm fortunate to be in a time where I can serve openly,” Leos said. “I’m grateful to be able to receive all the spousal and family benefits, regardless of my sexual orientation.”


Leos, first commissioned into the Air Force through the Health Professions Scholarship Program in 2011, after being moved by the tragic events of 9/11 and further encouragement from a recruiter visiting him in Physician Assistant School.


“I didn't know how I would be received in the military, I was hesitant and anxious to even apply and commission,” Leos said. “It's not something that I ever told my recruiter about, but once I joined and met other people who were part of the LGBTQ+ community, there was a solidarity and wingmanship. I felt so fortunate knowing that I am accepted and can be my authentic self. I didn't ever feel like it was something that I had to hide and be ashamed of.”


Leos added that anybody with the same trepidations he had while joining the Air Force can be supported and benefit from the multiple helping agencies provided to each installation.


“If anyone’s having questions or fears, there's always someone to talk to you,” Leos said. “Even if you don't have somebody that you consider close within your work unit there are other places to seek out like the Gay-Straight Alliance, Equal Opportunity Office, Military and Family Life Counselors and the Military OneSource. There are so many different options to talk to somebody, you don’t have to struggle alone.”


Leos reflected on his own personal struggles and battles facing discrimination from peers, family members and friends. He described how those difficult situations prepared him to navigate around adversity and shaped him into the leader he is today.


“Anything derogatory I encounter, whether it be a micro aggression or overt, I always try to put an end to it,” Leos said. “It’s our responsibility as leaders and Airmen, no matter what your rank is, to stand up and say this is not appropriate or this makes me feel uncomfortable, because if you don't condemn those actions you're condoning it.”


Leos explained how the inclusivity and acceptance of these communities are important factors not just for the Air Force, but all work environments to remain healthy and productive.


“A big piece of resiliency and force cohesion is being a wingman, supporting each other, developing people professionally and treating everyone fairly,” Leos said. “I think we all need to create an environment and culture where people feel free to be open about who they are.”


The Air Force has made tremendous strides in developing and supporting a healthy working environment by battling any unlawful discrimination against race, color, gender, national origin, religion and sexual orientation.


“Since the days of the Stonewall riots, I believe we've come a long way, but I think there's still more work to be done,” Leos said. “The military is also recognizing that we can do more to change the negative viewpoints towards these discriminated communities; that’s why I applaud leadership for continuing to press these diversity and inclusion discussions in our training.”


Leos further insisted how all awareness months and events that aim to celebrate but also educate about unjust incidents that occurred in society, are needed to build a better future.


“These awareness months are important because there's still people who are being discriminated against,” Leos said. “It may not be anything overtly, but people will say or do things that may offend or discriminate against others without knowing and these events allow us to bring awareness to those issues.”


Leos, an avid participant and organizer for Pride Month and the Diversity and Inclusion events at Misawa Air Base, explained how further progress can be made towards acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.


“Change takes time, everyone has grown up with different experiences, some people coming into the Air Force have never met anybody who's openly gay and may have certain prejudice ideas or stereotypes about you,” Leos said. “I believe the best thing we can do is treat everyone fairly, get to know people for their character and not be hung up on their sexuality. Educate yourself on things that you may be doing subconsciously to discriminate against others and make the effort to be more accepting.”


Pride Month, which is recognized each year in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, celebrates the struggles, sacrifices and successes the LGBTQ+ community endured to achieve equality today. Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral aspects of each individual and should never lead to discrimination or abuse. This month displays the importance of celebrating diversity and educating communities of equality, dignity and respect for all.


“I want everyone to recognize the importance of Pride Month, we need our allies to show support for the community to make a real change,” Leos said. “Be a piece of progress; we can't wait, hope and rely on other people to make the change for us.”