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LGBTQI+ Service Members celebrate Acceptance, Diversity

17 June 2024

From Anna Marie G. Gonzales, Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

When “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was repealed on Sept. 20, 2011, it allowed gay, lesbian and bisexual service members to be their authentic selves without fear of losing their jobs. It also paved the way for broader acceptance and inclusion of all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) troops in the military.
We spoke to two Sailors about what the repeal of DADT means to them and the significance of LGBTQI+ Pride Month.

For Chief Aviation’s Electrician’s Mate Emily Pagan, Navy Region Hawaii’s alcohol drug control officer and assistant foreign ship officer, the repeal of DADT meant not having to hide who she was.

“Now that it’s acceptable to join the military, I think it’s important for people to see us in these groups and these roles as members of the LGBTQI+ community,” said Pagan, who was born and raised in a small town in Alabama.

She’s been serving in the Navy for 17 years and is in her second tour in Hawaii. Emily has been married for six years to Jennie, whom she met during her first tour at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii where they were both stationed.

“We’ve been together for 10 years and have been married since 2018. In the beginning we faced challenges because I worked for the Navy and Jennie worked for the Marine Corps. At first it was really different because we came from different branches,” said Pagan. “Jennie said she didn’t want anyone to find out and I was fine. But ever since we’ve been married, it’s nothing we hide. We just openly say, hey this is my wife. People were shocked at first but there were no negatives to it; it’s been fine. Even all the commands I’ve been to since then are very accepting of both of us. It’s fun to go to her events as a military spouse and she comes to my events as a military spouse as well.”

Senior Chief Diego Villacervantes, yeoman for Navy Closure Task Force-Red Hill, said the Navy has come a long way in recognizing the LGBTQI+ community.

“It makes me glad that we are where we are right now, especially the acceptance part from people who I work with or who I have worked with previously,” said Villacervantes, who has served for 22 years. “When I told my previous CMC [Command Master Chief] about it, he was very accepting of it. He didn’t care who I was. All that mattered was I was a Sailor doing my own job and helping the command’s mission. It didn’t change his view about me at all and that was my first way forward to start letting people know and they can accept me for who I am.”
Acceptance is important to Villacervantes. “I’m glad that the Navy doesn’t push it on people but allows them to slowly accept who is a part of the LGBTQI+ community.”

Villacervantes grew up up in a Mexican and native American family and he said coming out was difficult because of his religion.

“On my Mexican side of the family, being Roman Catholic played a big role in me not coming out because in our religion it’s not good to be in a same-sex relationship, so it was hard at first,” he recalled. “My family was very accepting of it and that’s when my mom told me that’s our native side because we believe in two-spirited people, so nobody judges us on that. I was very proud of that and I slowly came out to more of my family, especially the older generation.”

Villacervantes said the rest of his family accepted him for who he was.

“The biggest thing was they wanted to know if I was happy and that was all that really mattered to my family," he added.

Villacervantes has been with his husband since 2009; they were married in 2014. Both men work at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

“The biggest thing was both our families accepted us. My family loves him and his family loves me. We are fortunate to have that because not a lot of people in our community do get that but we count it as a blessing that both our families accept us,” he said.

The Navy joins the nation in celebrating LGBTQI+ Pride Month during the month of June. LGBTQI+ Pride Month provides a platform to honor the perseverance and achievements of LGBTQI+ leaders within the Navy’s ranks and to reflect on the strides made in overcoming numerous obstacles to their service.

“At first I was just like, I don’t need a special month, I’m just like everybody else!” Pagan said, reflecting on Pride Month. “I do see the benefit in having months where we highlight certain people especially those in minority groups so other people can see you. It is more normalized. It’s nice to make groups of people normal and accepted throughout the community.”

In his message to the force, Secretary Carlos Del Toro said Pride Month is a reminder of the importance of creating a more effective and supportive military community.

“Today, as we confront the complexities of modern naval challenges, he is deeply grateful for the honor, courage, and commitment of LGBTQI+ Sailors, Marines, civilians, and their allies,” he said. “Their diverse perspectives, dedication, and distinguished service propel us forward in fulfilling our mission with a force reflective of our nation's talents and strengths.”

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