TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Airmen from across Travis Air Force Base, California, gathered at the base’s Duck Pond running path June 19, 2021, to participate in a Pride Month 5k and show their support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
The run, organized by Capt. (Dr.) Julian Moreno, 60th Dental Squadron general dentist, aimed to both reduce the stigma that members of the LGBTQ+ community sometimes face and normalize their service; something that has been seen as controversial in years past.
“Being a member of the community—being a gay man myself—I’ve luckily dodged the physical attacks that some people I know have faced, but I’ve nonetheless faced a lot of adversity,” Moreno said. “Being catcalled on the street, being called the f-word—all these things are unfortunately all too common amongst people in the LGBTQ+ community. It’s our hope that by being here and being queer—being ourselves—that it’ll open a lot of people’s eyes to say, ‘You know, this really isn’t something to be afraid of.”
It wasn’t until September 2011 when the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act became effective that lesbian, gay and bisexual people were allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military. Before then, members of the community were subject to discharge if their sexual orientations were divulged.
DADT and the atmosphere of secrecy and shame it fomented only served to weaken the military, Moreno said.
“Airmen from all career fields deal with job stressors,” he said. “That’s just the nature of the work we do. Couple that, though, with the added stress of hiding yourself and being prevented from being your authentic self and it can be devastating to someone’s mental health. It can lead to depression and even suicidal ideation, and Airmen dealing with these things, needlessly too, don’t bring that same authentic self to the work they do.”
With the Air Force promoting innovation within its ranks, Moreno believes that service members being more accepting of their LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in arms could not only increase the quality of life for everyone serving, but promote mission readiness as well.
“When you’re made to feel like you need to hide, you tend to hide other things as well,” he said. “Thoughts, emotions, ideas. These can all be thrown to the wayside just by that queer service member feeling side-lined in an effort to not be outed. Diversity of thought and of people can be a powerful tool in generating positive conversations and executing the Air Force’s mission, but we need to not only allow everyone a seat at the table, but also invite them to it and nurture an environment in which everyone feels valued and respected there.”
For Moreno, nurturing that environment comes down to a simple request to all Airmen: Be open-minded.
“It costs nothing to be empathetic—everyone can do it,” he said. “Whether you’re a commander or just an Airman out grabbing something from the dining facility, being open-minded to the fact that not everyone is going to be just like you and that’s something to be celebrated instead of fearful of would go far in moving the culture in a positive direction. Learning about the community as well, even in conversations with members of it, is also something everyone can do.”
While the run was a small event, it didn’t need to be a big one, said Moreno. With smiles and good feelings abound, it served its purpose.
“We were here and we were ourselves,” he said. “We had fun, nobody got hurt and I hope that today speaks to a larger shift in the attitudes of our people. That we all matter and even though we might look or act or love different, we’re still Airmen, and we aren’t going anywhere.”