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American Military Partner Association leaders, Jennifer Dane and Amanda Brewer, recently participated in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation’s sixth annual Time to THRIVE Conference in support of LGBTQ youth in Anaheim, Calif. Jennifer is AMPA’s diversity and inclusion policy analyst and did a presentation at the conference. Brewer is a program manager with MilPride — AMPA’s program for military families with LGBTQ youth.  

Here’s what they had to say about the event and how it changed their lives:

A Platform to Speak About My Military Experiences

Jennifer: I presented “The Basics of Bootcamp: Understanding Today’s Military Climate for Prospective LGBTQ+ Military Recruits.” I had a moderate turnout, great questions from the audience, but most importantly, I had a platform to speak about my experiences in the military, the transgender ban that is degrading morale, and the climate that is greatly being impacted by the current president.

After presenting, I realized that I had never been in a space that allowed me to be my authentic self, especially a conference space. I could attend any session and it would be relevant to my life in some capacity. It was mind blowing. No one questioned why I was there and I did not question my abilities either. It changed my life.

Amanda: I met a teen who plans to join the military. He asked questions (at Jennifer’s presentation) and so did his mom. We wished him all the best and told him we can’t wait to have him in AMPA, and his mom and dad in MilPride!

Two other outspoken teens told us what happened to them when they asked to serve their country. They were refused because they are transgender. They were told they were not able to enlist because of the discriminatory policies of the Trump administration. 

You could see it hurt them to be denied because of who they are. One teen has decided to study former military policies, specifically Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the other decided to become a firefighter.

As we wait for the decisions of the courts in the lawsuits challenging the trans ban, prospective recruits are getting the impression that the military isn’t welcoming for transgender people. We must continue to fight so that they don’t give up on their dreams of serving our country.

Who was your favorite speaker?

Amanda: The speech from National Education Association’s Vice President Becky Pringle was enough to fire up the whole room up for the entire weekend. She talked about the intersections people of color face daily, never giving up when things seem hard, and fighting for children all day every day. They need people who won’t back down, and the time is now.

Over 50% of All LGBTQ Kids Do Not Feel Safe at School 

Amanda: This administration doesn’t make it easy for LGBTQ youth. They rescinded inclusive guidance for trans children in public schools and changed the policy for sexual harassment cases on college campuses. Over 50% of all LGBTQ kids do not feel safe at school — that’s completely unacceptable.

Jennifer: The people that really stood out to me were the fearless mothers, fathers, and teachers who were attending (the conference) to understand how to better advocate on behalf of their children. They were filled with love, acceptance, and compassion for their LGBTQ children, something that I rarely saw when friends came out and even when I came out. It changed me.

Jazz Jennings was just as personable as she was in every interview she gives. Judy and Dennis Shepard (Matthew Shepard’s parents) were even more adorable and had hearts of gold that radiated with love. Betty DeGeneres was so precious that I wanted to adopt her as my own. Jody Patterson was such eloquent writer and advocate for her son, Penelope that I wanted to stay and talk with her all day.

What did you learn?

Amanda: HRC did a wonderful job of having spaces for learning about intersectionality so we can be better allies for our friends of color, affirming classrooms, inclusive policies, increasing LGBTQ participation in sports, information on the climate of the military, and encouraging families to listen to the stories of people further into their journey.

I learned how be a better ally, mom, and organizational leader in MilPride.  I can’t wait to start working locally to create more affirming spaces for all LGBTQ military youth, and then spread them as far and wide as we possibly can. MilPride is up for this challenge and ready to stand in the gap where we can, whenever we can.