'Being gay doesn’t define us'

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Joshua Thompson
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

Serving in the U.S. military can affect nearly every portion of a person’s life. The permanent change of stations, the deployments and the even standardized work uniforms all affect not only the member serving, but also their spouses, families and friends. Being able to relate to and depend on fellow service members for support and camaraderie is integral to a career of successful service.

For Tech. Sgt. Joshua Chevalier, 49th Maintenance Group weapons contracting officer’s representative, a career of service had always been the plan.

“I knew I wanted to be in the Air Force ever since I was in seventh grade,” Joshua recalled, adding it was not until after attending tech school for aircraft armament systems that he found out that he would be working in the weapons career field—the same field as his grandfather.

At 5 years old, I only remember him as the grandpa that brought me ice cream,” Joshua said. “Finding out that we shared a weapons career without even knowing it gave me a feeling that I was meant to do it and he was with me in spirit. I knew I wanted to make him proud of me and when I retire from the military, I want to share that with him too.”

When he enlisted in June of 2003, however, Joshua was required to keep a large portion of his life separate and secret—serving as a gay man under the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

Under the policy, enacted in 1994, service members could be removed from service for displaying any evidence of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“I could lose my job; it didn’t matter how good of a worker I was, how many awards, what I got on my (performance report),” said Joshua. “I didn’t have a lot of issues, because I worked hard. Whenever you work hard, do what you’re told and meet and exceed standards they don’t care what you do, they treat you as the work that you do. But, it was still that factor of I could be kicked out at a moment’s notice.”

Interactions with coworkers, even down to casual small talk, would be strained. Avoiding topics such as relationship status, dating life and even who he socialized with on the weekend were all regular practices.

“When I lived in the dorms I knew two individuals who got found out, and they got kicked out,” said Joshua. “Off of work was off-work, and on work was on work, and I kept them very separate.”

The secrecy ended with the repeal of the DADT policy in 2010, soon after Joshua met Ryan, his now husband, while stationed at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. Joshua left for deployment shortly after the repeal, and was faced with a myriad of reactions to his openness. Some long time coworkers accepted him and continued to interact with him based off his work ethic rather than his sexuality. He was also faced with much less supportive situations however—one supervisor even flatly telling him, “Gay people shouldn’t be in the military,” to his face.

After returning from deployment and marrying Ryan, Joshua deployed again. During the deployment tragedy struck when Hurricane Irene made landfall, flooding the couple’s Virginia home. Since marriage between same-sex couples still was not legally recognized nation-wide at the time, to include the military, Ryan was unsure of where to go for help, and ultimately called Joshua’s first sergeant.

“My first sergeant told my husband to quit school—he was on the dean’s list—and move to Maryland with his family until I got back because there was nothing they could do for him, because he was not considered my spouse,” Joshua said, remembering the community that he had so often helped during others’ times of trouble. “That really hurt. Because, they didn’t want to help me out when my family needed it, and we were only married maybe six months.”

Thankfully, instances of discrimination and inadequate community support were few, and lessened with time. As the legalization of marriage equality grew imminent, Joshua became the go-to expert for questions regarding LGBT issues within his organization.

“I had to keep myself educated, because I was that person that everyone was coming to,” Joshua said.

Joshua said the day marriage equality was legalized, and thus acceptance of same-sex marriages under the Department of Defense, was relatively uneventful, “It was just a normal day on the flight line. It wasn’t the big deal that people made it out to be.”

Ryan added that many of the changes were cultural shifts that occurred prior to the legalization of marriage, when he was officially recognized him as a military dependent.

Joshua’s role in promoting social acceptance of LGBT service members continued, organizing the first base LGBT Pride event while stationed at Sheppard AFB, Texas, which he used as an opportunity to educate the base and local community about the history of LGBT activism and LGBT service members.

Since the repeal, some of Joshua’s fondest memories were his career achievements such as Airman Leadership School and his promotion to the rank of technical sergeant which he got to share with Ryan openly present as his spouse.

Now stationed at Holloman, the Chevaliers time is now more occupied with neighborhood cookouts and less about with ensuring Ryan had base access, along with the greater challenge of now being parents.

“It’s kind of scary because you never want to mess up,” said Joshua, about being a father. “You want to set that example for the kids, you want to be there for them. That’s what pushes me—trying to do my best.”

The couple said their current challenges revolve around constructing costumes of their children’s favorite superheroes, getting to soccer meets and karate practices, and late nights staying up helping with last minute science projects.

“Being gay is not our number one,” Joshua said. “That doesn’t define us, and we’ve always stuck with that. We don’t do stuff because we’re gay, we do stuff because we’re normal. And, it’s good that we can say that. There was a long time where I felt that wasn’t (the case).”

According to Joshua, there is still progress to be made though. He believes he and fellow LGBT service members hold a responsibility to hold themselves above reproach, portraying the best of the Air Force, so that remaining opposition against LGBT service members and their families will continue to move towards acceptance.

“In the Air Force, that stigma is still there. I’m trying to educate people (that) there is no difference.”

(Editor’s Note: children’s names were withheld for privacy)