News from Around CNRJ

CFAY Celebrates Pride Month

30 June 2022

From Patrick Ciccarone

June is nationally recognized as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month. It is celebrated annually to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots, during which patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City rallied to combat the rampant harassment and persecution of LGBTQ Americans by the police. Those individuals’ courageous stand against inequality is what sparked the beginning of a movement that would eventually outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against the LGBTQ community.
June is nationally recognized as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Pride Month. It is celebrated annually to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots, during which patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City rallied to combat the rampant harassment and persecution of LGBTQ Americans by the police. Those individuals’ courageous stand against inequality is what sparked the beginning of a movement that would eventually outlaw discriminatory laws and practices against the LGBTQ community.

The purpose of the commemorative month is to not only recognize the impact that LGBTQ individuals have had on history, but also to celebrate the freedom to be oneself.

Great strides have been made regarding the acceptance of LGBTQ individuals over the last several decades, and the U.S. military has also adapted recently to foster an accepting community for all of our comrades-in-arms.

In 1994, the military enacted Defense Directive 1304.26, also known as ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ Coined and signed by then President Bill Clinton, who claimed that while it was “not a perfect solution,” it was a “major step forward,” toward allowing gay military members to serve when they had previously been excluded.

In theory, it lifted the ban on homosexual service that had been instituted during World War II, but in effect, it continued a statutory ban. DADT was lambasted by numerous gay rights activists for forcing military personnel into secrecy. As a result of the policy, thousands of service members were discharged due to their sexual orientation or preferences over the 17 years the policy was in place.

U.S. Navy Capt. Rich Jarrett, Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka (CFAY), and an openly gay member of the LGBTQ community, whose initial days of service were spent under DADT, remembered the difficulty of serving during that time and the opportunities it created when it was finally repealed.

“Just before the repeal, it was becoming increasingly difficult to achieve any sense of balance between work and personal life,” Jarrett recalled. “I nearly resigned my commission due to my inability to serve honestly.”

Growing up in Charleston, a small city in West Virginia, Jarrett’s sense of adventure and desire to broaden his horizons propelled him to join the Navy in 1992, shortly before DADT was put into effect.

Graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy as an Ensign, Jarrett’s journey has brought him to many locations, but none more important than a chance meeting in Boston, while he was stationed in Newport, RI, where he met his husband, Dann, a constant source of strength and partnership as well as an active member of the military spouse community

But throughout the course of those early days of service, Jarrett found difficulty in navigating the politics that forced him to walk a fine line between being an officer in the Navy and being his true self. A toll that wore on him and Dann.

“For the first half of my career, the only difference was the complete separation between my professional life as a Sailor and my personal life off-duty,” admits Jarrett. “But since 2012 [the year after the repeal of DADT], I've been able to integrate those two parts of my life and I think I've become a much better Sailor and leader as a result.”

By 2008, when DADT had been active for 15 years, over 12,000 officers had been discharged from the military for refusing to hide their homosexuality. Despite members of the LGBTQ community leaving the military, Jarrett persevered and found a rhythm conducive to success.

“I think my journey as an LGBTQ person is not dissimilar from the journey of other Sailors,” posits Jarrett. “I've spent many months at sea on deployment, sometimes during periods of conflict, and stood the watch day and night, ready to respond against our adversaries.”

Finally, after nearly two decades of discrimination, secrecy, and struggle, the LGBTQ community was met with a break on September 20, 2011, when President Barack Obama’s bill for repealing DADT was implemented.

At the time, Obama had praised the repeal saying that, “it is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed.”

After the repeal of DADT, the military was transformed – it became an environment much like the one President Obama imagined – individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, were now able to serve without fear of reprisal and given the same fair treatment as their heterosexual counterparts.

Jarrett remembers the joy and pride associated with the repeal - “'[the repeal of] don't ask, don't tell' has allowed me to continue my service in the Navy.”

With Dann at his side, Jarrett has since found opportunities ranging from several tours at sea including command at sea, staff assignments in the Pentagon, and finally to Yokosuka, Japan, where he assumed the role of CFAY’s commanding officer in 2019.

While the population of LGBTQ service members is still low, approximately 6.0% according to a survey in 2015, LGBTQ community service member pioneers have led the way for those serving after them to discover themselves and their place in the military.

The repeal also paved the way for open celebration of the LGBTQ community, through events like Pride Month and allowed service members like Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Reymundo Villegas, to enlist. Villegas, currently assigned to U.S. Seventh Fleet, enlisted in 2017 after DADT had been repealed, allowing him to enter the Navy as an openly gay man.

Villegas, a native of Port Lavaca, Texas, grew up struggling with how to embrace his role in the LGBTQ community. These struggles manifested during puberty, when he learned to deepen his voice or seek out the company of females in hopes of integrating better.

“I am Hispanic, and my upbringing was very much influenced by my Mexican ethnic roots,” remembered Villegas. “But I was a little flamboyant as a child which caused me to constantly be made fun of by my male friends and classmates who I attended school with.”

Villegas explained that his first attempt to come out was at age 15, watching television with his mother, with whom he shared nearly everything, was unsuccessful—a story many like him share.
While some figures in his personal life were less than supportive, Villegas is grateful for the inspiration leaders like Jarrett provide.

“I was excited to learn that Capt. Jarrett, an openly gay leader, was the commander at CFAY,” Villegas said. “Leaders like him paved the way for this generation currently serving and the ones who will follow.”

Today, Pride Month celebrations are commonplace in the military. They include parades, picnics, parties, workshops, symposia, and concerts, and LGBTQ Pride Month events attract millions of participants around the world. Memorials are also held during this month for those members of the community who have been lost to hate crimes, or HIV/AIDS.

Villegas, grateful for the opportunities that he has been given, could only express the importance of inclusiveness saying, “Representation truly matters.”

But what does Pride Month and all the history associated with the LGBTQ community mean to CFAY’s commanding officer?

“Pride Month is a time for both celebration and reflection,” Jarrett said. “It is a great opportunity to gather together with friends and the community to share stories of progress, as well as uplift others who may still be on a journey in their experience as an LGBTQ person.”

On June 24th, hundreds of Sailors onboard CFAY marched in celebration of inclusiveness and equality during the annual Pride Month parade. Celebrations like these are demonstrative of how pioneers like Jarrett and others have shaped the Navy to create a culture of acceptance and pride in one’s identity.

“As a senior LGBTQ officer, I recognize that there is probably some amount of spotlight on my representation of the community,” said Jarrett. “However, I feel like every officer should conduct themselves as if they were in the spotlight and my role is to provide the best possible leadership that I can muster for all of the Sailors, family members, and civilians who I have the privilege of working with at CFAY.”

For more than 75 years, CFAY has provided, maintained, and operated base facilities and services in support of the U.S. 7th Fleet’s forward deployed naval forces, tenant commands, and thousands of military and civilian personnel and their families.

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