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There has been much progress in recent years and months towards equality.  The American Military Partner Association and some of its key leaders have played an essential role in raising awareness, lobbying congress, challenging policy, and advocating on the political front lines for LGBT military service members and their families.  The work they do, while I can only imagine, is tireless and perhaps at times thankless, is making a REAL difference.

As a former Battalion Commander of mine once said of great leaders, “they are out there sticking their faces in the fan blades.”  That is exactly what the AMPA Leadership is doing, they know they‘re going to get “cut” by opposition and yet they press forward anyway.

While many states have made great progress towards equality, there is still much more work to be done in others.

It saddens me to know that in this age of such great progress towards equality, many LGBT persons still feel they cannot be completely themselves without being judged by people in the communities in which they live. In many places, there is still hate, shock, animosity, and a slew of other emotions that fill peoples hearts and lead to the ending of families and friendships. I understand, even after “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” ended, why some choose to still remain closeted.

For many of us who are out to our family, friends and coworkers, we may still struggle to be out “authentically” in our communities.  If you are like me, you may intentionally or sometimes unintentionally modify your behavior or actions with your partner while in public due to not wanting to offend others, or draw unwanted attention so as to become the target of people’s hateful stares, mockery, or hostility.

Some days it is just easier to wait until we are in the privacy of our own car or at home to share that smile, hold each other’s hand, or exchange a quick kiss.  Some may think I do this because I am ashamed of who I am or because I want to leave the fight for equality up to others and not get involved.  That’s not it at all.  I fully embrace being gay, I have reconciled it with my faith, I could not be more proud of my wife, and I would love to be a part of making a difference.

I dream of a day where I no longer worry about what someone else may think about my relationship. I long for a day when holding my wife’s hand doesn’t turn the head and illicit a stare from one single stranger.  I hope that one day the sweat will stop dripping down my back right before I tell a new supervisor that I am gay.

I have moments where I feel brave and do not care what others think of me.  Then, just as quickly as it arrived, the bravery leaves and I feel the need to rush back into the solace of my shell.

I wish I could be strong and consistent, but unfortunately there are still times where I am overcome with the fear of what others think. I can’t seem to find the off button.

I care about not offending those in my family who still struggle with accepting me and don’t want to drive the wedge deeper. I am bothered by the mean stares of strangers; and the pain of rejection from my fellow Christian colleagues is still raw and very real.

I’ve been told that I need to get tougher skin, but I just can’t seem to find a store that’s selling it. Despite being told numerous times that I would get used to the pain, I have not.  After being in the closet for 35 years, sometimes the comfort of its darkness is still more comfortable than dealing with other people’s discomfort.

While the fear is still real at times, there is one very important thing that has helped me to live more authentically – community.

Knowing that my wife and I are not alone on this journey has proven to be a great comfort.  I have noticed that when I am in a group with my LGBT friends, I am able to truly be myself without worrying about what outsiders may think.  I feel at peace when I am with those who know first hand the challenges and successes of being gay and in the military.

I look at where I was a little over a year ago: completely closeted, paranoid, and ALWAYS afraid of being outed. Compared with today: I am starting a welcoming and affirming church in my community next month, I am out to my family, my friends, former supervisors, and just about 20 minutes ago, with the sweat beginning to roll down my back, I came out to my Brigade Commander and my new Chaplain Assistant. I absolutely would not have been able to do those things without the support of an amazing community and incredible friends.

So, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of closeted, loud and proud, out sometimes, out to certain people, out on some days, ….you aren’t alone.  You may live in a state or community that does not yet embrace equality, but there is a community and family right here in AMPA where you are free to be yourself, whomever that may be.

Megan is a former active duty Army Chaplain who recently transitioned into the Army Reserves.  She is married to her wife, CW2 Desiree Browning, and they are currently stationed at Fort Campbell, KY.  Megan continues to be passionate about ensuring LGBT soldiers and families are afforded the spiritual support they deserve and desire. Follow Megan on Twitter: @Meganehodge