JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Brooke Army Medical Center celebrated Pride Month June 19 with an observance in the fourth-floor auditorium.
Pride Month honors lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and is celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. The Stonewall Uprising was a tipping point for the gay movement in the United States.
“Our nation and our military’s greatest strength is our diversity,” said Brig. Gen. George Appenzeller, BAMC commanding general. “We have made great strides toward inclusivity, but we are not there yet.
“We shouldn’t be measured by race, our background, ethnicity, or sexual orientation,” Appenzeller said. “We should be measured by our capabilities.”
The guest speaker for the event was Army Capt. Ellen Simpson, a perioperative registered nurse at BAMC.
“When I commissioned into the military in 2009, I never would have imagined that we would be observing Pride Month on a military installation, let alone that I would be asked to be a guest speaker at such an event,” she said.
Simpson reflected on how the military has changed during her 10-year career.
“I began serving in 2009 when ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was still in full swing,” she said.
“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” or DADT, was the official United States policy on military service by gays, bisexuals, and lesbians. The policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service.
“My wife, Shannon, and I had recently started dating, so once I began working in the hospital at Fort Bragg, I was very selective of what I said when I was asked about personal relationships,” Simpson said. “I knew the consequences of coming out during that time could result in being kicked out simply for loving another female.”
Simpson said they would attend social gatherings together, but Shannon was considered her roommate by the people they met.
The couple got engaged in February 2011, and DADT was repealed Sept. 20, 2011.
“Although we were safe to come out without reprimand, not everyone welcomed us with open arms, because as we all know, attitude changes do not automatically come with policy changes,” she said. “I did have a few great supervisors at the time who were supportive of Shannon and I, but there was still an overall stigma against gays in the military by many.”
Simpson was stationed at Keller Army Community Hospital at West Point, New York, in December 2011.
“At first I would wear my engagement ring on the opposite hand, in hopes that no one asked me personal questions about my relationship,” she said. “It wasn’t long before everyone we met would learn the truth of our relationship. Most were surprisingly accepting and made us feel very comfortable.”
In November 2012, they were the first same-sex couple to wed at the Old Cadet Chapel at West Point.
“While DADT had now been repealed for over a year, we were still terrified of protestors and the potential ramifications of being the first same-sex couple to wed at such a sacred place,” Simpson said. “Due to these fears we decided to have a top-secret intimate wedding, in hopes of avoiding any press or protestors. Thankfully, we succeeded.”
Even though the couple was legally married, the Defense of Marriage Act prohibited same-sex married couples from collecting federal benefits.
“In September 2013, the Department of Defense began recognizing same-sex military couples, which in my eyes, was revolutionary,” Simpson said. “Shannon was finally able to have a DOD Dependent ID card and I could list her as a ‘next of kin’ on my SGLI (Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance) paperwork. I finally felt equal to my heterosexual counterparts.”
In 2017, the couple welcomed their two daughters, Chloe and Harper, into the world.
“We are hopeful that they will continue to grow up in a forward progressing and accepting community,” she said.
Army Sgt. Maj. James Brown, BAMC chief clinical noncommissioned officer, reiterated the general’s comments.
“What really makes our military great is truly the diversity in it,” he said. “We have to continue to foster an environment that is of open mindedness, tolerance and patience.”