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OutServe Magazine | January 19, 2015

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Tracey Hepner: “Be A Good Neighbor”

Tracey Hepner: “Be A Good Neighbor”

The following guest blog is written by Tracey Hepner. Tracey is a co-founder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition (MPFC). MPFC provides support, resources, education and advocacy to military LGBT families.

The most effective way to eliminate a stereotype is to defy it daily with an accurate example. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provided fertile ground to perpetuate damaging LGBT stereotypes because there was no opportunity for an alternative example. Replacing lingering stereotypes with real LGBT families is critical for successful acceptance and assimilation within the larger military community.

Military Partners & Families Coalition Co-founder Tracey Hepner (Left) with her wife Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith

Military Partners & Families Coalition co-founder Tracey Hepner (Left) with her wife, Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith.

The best approach to assimilation is visibility. We must introduce our families as they are: regular military families who are working hard to balance Service to the nation with the daily responsibilities of a committed relationship. We are all the things that anyone would expect of a military family: Patriotic, selfless, and committed to bringing up our kids in a safe and stable environment. We want our Servicemembers free to focus totally on the mission of protecting our country. We are military families first; the greater military community needs to see us as we really are.

Not surprising, many service members are eagerly stepping out of the shadows with their spouses and bringing them to unit functions. Spouses are contributing to family readiness groups and taking on leadership roles. They are engaging in the time honored tradition of building lasting family support bonds between military families. Spouses are meeting other spouses, and kids are playing together. The positive stories far outweigh negative when authentic military families meet each other. The real people replace the stereotypes and we create space for mutual understanding and acceptance.

Acceptance is the precursor to assimilation. When our families are accepted we become part of the military community and our allies join us in furthering the Department of Defense policy changes that will result in inclusion. Defying the stereotypes and gaining acceptance is the equivalent to boots on the ground in combat operations. The only way to truly hold a piece of terrain is to occupy it. By being visible in the military community we are occupying our terrain and encouraging conversations between military leaders and “out” families at all levels.

Each positive encounter serves to reinforce our place as good neighbors in the military community. It is insightful to consider that LGBT military families and straight military families need some time to get used to each other, just like any new neighbors. As the new neighbors we must patiently and maturely express our needs without defaulting to a scorched earth, demand-centric style. We want to be good neighbors because we are moving into the military community permanently. Good neighbors are accepted, not just tolerated.

We have seen limited movement on the numerous policies military leaders could modify now to increase inclusiveness. After the hard repeal fight it is frustrating to inch forward rather than experience sweeping reform. Despite the frustration, it is imperative that military families deliberately inch forward to be visible at every opportunity rather than hanging all hopes upon Defense of Marriage Act repeal. With or without DOMA repeal, we still have to live in the same neighborhood – don’t wait for repeal to be visible and then demand that you are tolerated.

Do not underestimate the power of showing up as your authentic selves at military-centric activities. Each of you is responsible for being the boots on the ground that results in acceptance and assimilation. Replace the stereotypes by being a good neighbor in your military community. We look forward to hearing your local success stories.