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Topics In the News
 
New Brigadier General Comes Out
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/10/12
Last updated on: 08/10/12
 
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U.S. Army Brigadier General Tammy Smith has become the first openly gay flag officer to come out while currently serving in the U.S. military. She was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in a private ceremony on August 10, 2012. She received her stars from her wife, Tracey Hepner.

As Leo Shane III reports in Stars and Stripes, Smith's pinning ceremony marks an important milestone for the gay rights movement. She is the most senior openly gay military figure.

General Smith has been assigned as deputy chief at the Office of the Chief at the Army Reserve. She spent much of 2011 serving in Afghanistan.

Last summer, before the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" became final, she told Stars and Stripes (speaking under a pseudonym) that she had no plans to come out to her colleagues, but was looking forward to the relief of knowing that her career would not be threatened if she were found out.

"Finally my partner and I will be able to go out and have drinks together without worrying," she said then.

Today, Smith's wife, Tracey Hepner, a co-founder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition, said that the last year has been a dramatic transformation for the couple, who have been together for ten years.

"The support we've received has been amazing," she said. "I wasn't surprised that people were so accepting, but in some cases it has been even celebratory. It's like nothing has really changed for us, and yet everything has changed."

Smith is not the first gay general officer, only the first who is able to serve without hiding his or her sexual orientation for fear of discharge.

In a press release from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), an organization dedicated advancing full equality and ending all forms of discrimination and harassment of military personnel, SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis praised General Smith's leadership and encouraged others to follow her lead.

"It is indeed a new era in America's military when our most accomplished leaders are able to recognize who they are and serve the country they love at the same time. Brigadier General Smith made history today--not only as an exemplary service member who renders outstanding service to our nation with integrity and honor--but as a proud lesbian acknowledging the tremendous sacrifice her family makes in order for her to serve and advance. This day was long overdue, but I have no doubt more senior enlisted and officers will follow BG Smith in stepping forward smartly with their spouses and loved ones," he said.

Sue Fulton, a member of the Board of Directors of Outserve, the association of actively-serving glbtq military personnel, issued the following statement: "For years, gay and lesbian generals and admirals were forced to hide their families in order to protect their careers. It is a great day for our military and for our nation when this courageous leader is finally able to recognize her wife for her support and sacrifice in the same way that all military families should be recognized for their service to our country."

In the video below, from September 20, 2011, Rachel Maddow discusses the end of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

 
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