Independence Day has always filled me with a tremendous sense of pride. The older I get, the deeper this pride grows. Most people see the day as full of festivities, parades or fireworks. As a transgender veteran, I don’t view this as “just another holiday.” This is a time for reflection – thinking back to those who patriotically served in the shadows.

Veterans and members of the armed forces put their lives on the line each day to ensure the freedoms we enjoy. They defend these values with their lives, literally. LGBT service members and veterans are no different. We have served and continue to serve proudly and selflessly.

The Fourth of July reminds me of the historic and profound progress made for LGBT military equality. We fought back and our voices were heard through some incredible and long-overdue victories. Despite what challenges remain on the road to full equality, there is a sense of hope. I am reminded of that pride today. America’s strength is found in its diversity and in its patriots.

This Independence Day, I am reminded of all those who have served. I choose to reflect upon those who paved the way and spoke out when others couldn’t. Some are here, some are gone, but what they left us continues on and so do we. There is pride in recognizing past and present contributions. I remember those who served in silence, those who spoke up, those who paved the way, and those who continue to open minds and hearts along the way.