LGBT military families celebrate historic event

Members of the Oregon Air National Guard, friends and family met on base for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) potluck June 8, 2013. This event, a first for the Air National Guard, was designed to create a bridge in the military community. (from left to right in photo) Master Sgt. David Brunstad, Darin Brunstad, Maj. Lisa Scott and Staff Sgt. Ijigale Beltran. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Brandon Boyd, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

Members of the Oregon Air National Guard, friends and family met on base for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) potluck June 8, 2013. This event, a first for the Air National Guard, was designed to create a bridge in the military community. (from left to right in photo) Master Sgt. David Brunstad, Darin Brunstad, Maj. Lisa Scott and Staff Sgt. Ijigale Beltran. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Brandon Boyd, 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs)

PORTLAND AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ore. - -- He said his goodbyes in secret, behind the FedEx warehouses near the Portland Air National Guard Base. He dropped his spouse off down the main road leading into the base, far away from the large group of friends and family gathered to say goodbye to their loved ones headed on deployment to Iraq in January 2009.

Darin Brunstad had heard details about the military families in attendance that day, but feared he would never have a chance to meet them. Darin Brunstad's spouse is Master Sgt. David Brunstad, a member of the 142nd Security Forces Squadron, Oregon Air National Guard.

"He would tell me all about their family lives; I knew their names, their kids' names and they knew nothing about me," said Darin Brunstad.

As the group left for Iraq, Darin Brunstad said as a same-sex spouse, he lacked the support system enjoyed by other military families. He was unable to qualify for the benefits spouses usually receive, even after a 13-year committed relationship and a marriage. Darin Brunstad said he felt like he didn't exist.

"He was over there fighting for his country; I would go four and five days without hearing anything from him and just wonder if something happened. I had all of these feelings and there was nothing I could do, so I just started writing about it," Darin Brunstad said.

Fearing the potential ramifications of revealing his identity, Darin Brunstad wrote articles online using a pseudonym. His writing garnered attention. In the fall of 2010, he was one of thirteen partners and spouses from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community invited to participate in a working group at the Pentagon focused on the issue of repealing the don't ask, don't tell policy (DADT).

"I was really scared - I thought, 'this is the only chance to get input from LGBT partners' and I didn't want to let people down who weren't able to speak on this issue," Darin Brunstad said.

As DADT went through the congressional process, Darin Brunstad said it was unclear if the repeal would pass and he felt like he was on an emotional roller coaster. In September, 2011, the repeal of DADT became a reality.

Now, nearly two years after the repeal, Darin Brunstad finally got his chance to meet his husband's military family that he'd heard so much about as Service members, friends and family gathered together for a LGBT potluck here on base Saturday, June 8.

"This event is a great opportunity to get to know our peers in the wing," said Staff Sgt. Ijigale R. Beltran, Equal Opportunity Advisor for the 142nd Fighter Wing.

The LGBT potluck filled an armory classroom on base, decorated with colorful tablecloths and refreshments amidst joyful conversation.

"This was certainly a historic event for the Fighter Wing, but that is not what stood out to me.
The event was a success in large part for what it was not; There was no fanfare, no political agendas, and no uproar at all surrounded this event. It was simply a chance for us to acknowledge our service members and their families," said Col. Paul Fitzgerald, 142nd Fighter Wing mission support commander.

"None of this would have happened without the support of the leadership of the 142nd," Darin Brunstad said.

Each month the 142nd Fighter Wing works hard on diversity issues. Col. Fitzgerald summarized the unit's approach to equal opportunity events held each month on base. "Every member of our organization plays a vital role in our success and I'm glad we had the chance to connect with families to show them our support. It is what we do as Redhawks."

Recently, the Department of Defense announced a list of benefits scheduled to become available to same-sex military families in the fourth quarter of this year, including dependent ID cards, child care, commissary and exchange privileges, joint duty assignments, and access to morale, welfare and recreation programs.

"Society has changed; everyone here has LGBT friends and family in their civilian lives and now in their military lives as well," said Darin Brunstad.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month is celebrated each June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan, and to recognize the impact that LGBT individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally.

"In the Guard, all members are recognized as our most valuable asset," said Beltran.