LGBTQ+ Veterans Encourage Openness
June 23, 2022 | 2-minute read
“My whole existence as a gay man has been espionage,” says TJ, a U.S. Army Veteran. “It was something that I just didn’t want to deal with.”
TJ is one of the estimated 1 million U.S. Veterans who identify as LGBTQ+. And like generations of Soldiers before him and after, TJ had to keep his sexual orientation under wraps or face discharge or even court-martial.
That policy has changed since TJ served in the late 1970s, but for many, the idea of opening up about their sexuality remains daunting. The alternative, however, means hiding their orientation or gender identity, which is stressful in a different way.
“The thought was tearing me in half that I was being someone to these brothers of mine, but inside I was someone else,” says Tim, a Veteran of the U.S. Marines. “When you’re in the Marine Corps, your sexuality is not what defines you. How good of a Marine you are is what defines you.”
Becca, a U.S. Navy Veteran, panicked the first time she revealed her sexuality to a VA provider. “I thought, ‘Oh, what have I done?’ And I realized that it was OK. They’re like, ‘You’re fine.’ It was like a huge sense of relief,” she recalls. “Being able to be open and honest with my care provider, it’s a good feeling to know that you’re accepted.”
Often due to discrimination and stigma, LGBTQ+ Veterans are at elevated risk for chronic stress, which can, in turn, increase the risk for certain mental and physical health conditions, including substance use disorders, PTSD, and anxiety. Also, LGBTQ+ Veterans experience depression and suicidal ideation at significantly higher rates than other Veterans and the general population.
“The damage that society does to us is all on the inside,” says Cynthia, who served in the U.S. Navy for nearly a decade and later came out as transgender. “The part that was hard for me — especially hard for me — was not getting any recognition, not being seen.”
Following her military service, says Cynthia, “I tried to live my life as a woman in Japan, but it was again, I had to have a job as a male. So I got a job with an English school there, but I was also working in a bar at night, and I had to drink with men,” she says. “I would end up spending more than was reasonable or prudent to maintain my lifestyle.”
Depression closed in and persisted for years until Cynthia began attending a VA transgender support group.
“Is there hope in the world for transgendered people? Of course there is,” she says now. “You can find sympathetic and supportive professionals … in the VA system.”
Tim, the Marine Veteran, says being true to yourself and open with those around you can make all the difference.
“Be honest with yourself and be honest with the people who love you and who will stand by you, because you’re most likely going to lose very little and you’re going to gain a lot.”
The Veterans Crisis Line connects Veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring VA responders through a confidential toll-free hotline and online chat, regardless of enrollment in VA care. If you are thinking about death or suicide, call the Veterans Crisis Line now by dialing 988 and Pressing 1, use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat, or send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support, 24/7/365.