DAHLGREN, Va. – The Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) recognized Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month with the command’s first panel discussion featuring four LGBT government civilian employees, July 23.
The employees – Dr. Pearl Rayms-Keller, Danica Leninski, Leonard Garrison, and Raine Bannister – shared their stories with military, government, and contractor personnel who packed the University of Mary Washington Dahlgren Campus auditorium.
In what they called “crucial conversations”, the NSWCDD panel members addressed the question, “how do I start from here” and discussed the “importance of being out in the workplace, the risk of disclosing, and getting through it all.”
In his opening remarks, NSWCDD Commanding Officer Cmdr. Stephen ‘Casey’ Plew, pointed out that the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimated in 2010 that 70,000 members of the U.S. military were LGBT.
In 2014, the institute estimated that 15,500 transgendered Americans served in the armed forces, including more than 6,000 on active duty. A 2016 workplace and gender relations survey found that 9,000 U.S. military service members consider themselves transgender individuals.
“It is therefore evident that the topics the panelists will address today are salient in the continued discussion of crucial modern social issues,” said Plew. “By the end today’s panel discussion, we hope that the scope of this issue will be more evident and resonate with the audience.”
The Navy and DoD have demonstrated their commitment to gender equality and inclusion by implementing the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 2011, enabling gay, lesbian and bisexuals to openly serve in the armed forces, and by instituting a 2016 policy change to enable transgender personnel to serve as their preferred gender.
In their conversations, the NSWCDD panelists spoke about their personal journeys and experiences with honesty and openness.
Rayms-Keller recounted her journey as she told the audience a series of stories about her life. “I’ve always known who I was, however, society had a problem with my identity,” said the NSWCDD senior scientist. “My parents and teachers did not understand, and did not accept my choice. While society has grown more tolerant with people in the LGBT community, 50 to 60 percent of LGBT still face persecution. Personally, it has been a long and painful journey but after transition, I have found a measure of peace and happiness.”
The NSWCDD Strategic and Computing Systems Department chief scientist explained that she is not a trans scientist, trans father, trans American, trans Jew, or a trans woman.
“I am just an American woman who happens to be a father, a Jew, a teacher and a proud U.S. Navy scientist,” said Rayms-Keller. “My journey has not ended. I continue to change, evolve, adapt, and lead. In transitioning, as in any journey, you do not do it alone. Your journey or transition with your family, co-workers, and friends. One of the most elemental human need is that of being included – remember kindergarten. Inclusion fosters diversity and productivity, which in turn, leads to innovation and invention that win wars.”
“I think it’s a benefit to others when people come out at work,” said Garrison, an NSWCDD software assurance analyst. “Statistics show that others become more tolerant when they know an LGBTQ person in their life, and of course there’s always the benefit for people who aren’t ready to be out yet, to see other people as an example.”
After coming out in his senior year of college and in the face of alienation, Garrison spoke about his world opening up with new friends that he found at Dahlgren.
“Getting through it all is easier with friends, like most in life,” he said. “I try to seek out a solid LGBTQ community wherever I go, and I’ve been lucky to find a lot of people here at Dahlgren and in the greater Fredericksburg area. We can’t do it alone and need allies who aren’t LGBTQ themselves who will support us when we need it. I’ve also found that at Dahlgren, which has been one of the best parts of working here.”
Bannister, an NSWCDD computer scientist, shared her story about first coming out at work.
”I feared people would see me as less than what I was because I was transgender; that people would never see me as a woman; and that I would make people upset for even thinking that way,” said Bannister. “After coming out I realized that wasn’t true. I am fortunate enough to work in a place that fosters a welcoming and supportive environment. However, that story of acceptance is not everyone’s story. In the work environment, some people experience harassment or the loss of a job.”
Bannister reflected on how she takes her struggles in stride. “What is getting through it all,” she asked. “For me, every day is a challenge. I have to prepare and push myself to do things I was told my whole life are wrong. Between days, I don’t see much change in myself, both outside and in. However, if I compare myself today from one month, six months, and a year ago, I can see how far I’ve come, and I continue to prepare myself for the journey ahead.”
Leninsky, an NSWCDD scientist, changed her mind from never intending to come out to coming out to both of her parents while she was in school. “Everything changed after that in the best possible ways,” she said. “Both of my parents were extremely supportive, and I am acutely aware of that privilege. I have many friends who aren’t so lucky and who were either rejected by their parents or are terrified to tell them.”
After the event, Marcus Matthews, NSWCDD Dam Neck Activity Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) specialist, reflected on the panel discussion.
“What impacted me was the gentlemen who said that ‘coming to Dahlgren saved his life,” said Matthews. “That was eye opening and really let me know that Dahlgren has created a culture where people who are part of the LGBT community can feel safe and inclusive in our work force.”
The LGBT forum continued to spark a variety of perspectives from the audience.
“The panelists spoke about their employment at Dahlgren and how it provided each of them with a much needed sense of purpose, ownership, pride, and acceptance,” said Alisa Dyson, NSWCDD EEO specialist. “We could relate to their conversations and it goes to show that no matter how different we are, we all have something in common.”
The Navy is committed to fostering an actively inclusive environment that values the diversity of its force, and recognizes that service members and civilians achieve optimal performance when each and every member of One Navy Team is treated with dignity and respect.
Initially established as "Gay and Lesbian Month" by Presidential Proclamation in 2000, LGBT Pride Month recognizes the accomplishments of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, and acknowledges their continued struggle to achieve equality.
In support of the Navy's primary mission of deterring and defeating adversaries in all domains across all spectrums of warfare, the Navy is committed to building and maintaining force comprised of the most capable and qualified Sailors regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class or background.