Incirlik hosts LGBT Pride panel

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --

The Incirlik Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender committee held a lunch and learn panel as part of LGBT Pride Month June 16, 2017, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

The panel featured five Airmen who answered questions on topics such as coming out to family, friends and coworkers, how they perceive LGBT stereotypes, and the effects of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy before its repeal in 2010.

“Coming out wasn’t a decision that I chose, or an event where I just said it and that was it,” said Lt. Col. Sarah Lynch, 39th Air Base Wing safety executive. “It is, to me, a lifelong continuous process and it never stops.”

Maj. Martin Barnes, 39th ABW chaplain, also shared his experiences as both a brother of a gay man and a father of a transgender child.

“To have loved ones who came out was new,” said Barnes. “When my brother came out, I told him, you’re my brother, and whether you like it or not, I’m still going to love you no matter what. He helped me reframe my world and how I thought of other LGBT people.”

The luncheon touched on the experiences of a few Airmen who were in the Air Force during the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which barred openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons from military service.

“I remember when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was implemented,” said Lynch. “Being an air mobility pilot, it was easy to just disappear, so that’s what I learned to do. At any given time, two-thirds of the squadron was absent and out flying, and that made it easy to just be invisible, stay under the radar and not make waves.”

Lynch said that seemingly innocent questions would sometimes put her in difficult situations.

“Sometimes, when people would ask me if I had a boyfriend, or someone special, it was a really awkward situation to try and find my way out of while keeping integrity and trying not to lie. I was constantly torn between chasing my dream and surviving or being authentic and honest.”

In contrast, today’s Equal Opportunity Policy allows Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines the chance to excel in their careers without the fear of discrimination because of sexual orientation.

“What people don’t know, they don’t always understand,” said Staff Sgt. Amber Swearengin, 39th Comptroller Squadron commander’s support staff NCO in charge. “I was very fortunate to have coworkers who understood and told me it was okay.”

The DoD relies on a diverse force in order to maintain readiness. By acknowledging the importance of diversity, Airmen at the 39th Air Base Wing stay fit to fight.