The Naval Sea Systems Command Warfare Centers on June 28, 2022 held a collaborative Pride Month event across the Nation to celebrate all in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and/or questioning (LGBTQ+) community.
The virtual event, hosted by members from the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Keyport Division, included Ross Wilhelm, branch manager, Large and Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles; Jennifer Morris, the Special Emphasis Group Program Manager; Michael Slater, acting technical director; and Jesse Page, financial management analyst, who was the event master of ceremonies.
Juniper Sweeney, a chemical engineer at NSWCPD, served as the panel host who managed the discussion by asking insightful questions and driving the conversation surrounding current and past issues concerning the community.
She was joined by guest panelists Stacy Lentz, part owner of the Stonewall Inn and the CEO of Stonewall Gives Back Initiative; Kurt Kelly, managing owner of the Stonewall Inn and co-founder of Stonewall Gives Back Initiative; and Tree, an LGBTQ activist, who was present for the Stonewall rebellion and who has bartended in New York City since the mid 1960’s and currently bartends at the Stonewall Inn to this day.
“It is ground zero. It’s the gay church. Everyone comes here on pride, because this is where pride began,” Kelly said in discussing how the Stonewall Inn’s historical value to the community grows stronger each year.
According to the Library of Congress, June 28, 1969 marks the beginning of the Stonewall Uprising, a series of events between police and LGBTQ+ protesters that stretched over six days. Little did the protesters know, those six days profoundly changed the discourse surrounding LGBTQ+ activism in the United States. Though Stonewall became well known due to the media coverage and the following annual Pride traditions, it was a result of years of LGBTQ+ involvement.
“After the rebellion there was over 150 different organizations across the country in support of the community,” Lentz said.
Kelly and Lentz both work around the clock to ensure the Stonewall Inn is giving back, along with upholding its infamous legacy of activism for the LGBTQ+ community. During the panel Sweeney focused on issues in the LGBTQ+ community that currently need special attention.
Lentz elaborated on the importance of voting to ensure the laws are free to all citizens.
“There has been over 200 hundred laws at the state level that have been introduced, particularly attacking the most marginalized in our community, which are gender, non-conforming, non-binary, and trans folks,” Lentz said. “We use Stonewall’s platform and legacy to really fight on that local level, really working with grassroots organizations and grassroots activist to really call on those legislators. And even if we can’t change those laws, we can at least make people feel advocated for and affirmed in those states where it needs to happen the most,” she added.
Later, Sweeney shared her experience of being a transgender woman employed by NSWCPD.
“I really appreciate when one of my co-workers lists their pronouns in their email signature. Even when I am not present people advocate for me by using my name and pronouns correctly. Also, if there are remarks about my identity made behind my back, calling that behavior out as unacceptable around you is also really powerful,” Sweeney said.
Her words of advice to the viewers on how to be a good advocate were: “Listen to your colleagues, especially if you know yourself to be an ally to a person, not just the community at large.”
Sweeny also asked the panelists about the importance of preserving LGBTQ+ focused spaces such as Stonewall Inn and similar establishments and community centers around the country.
“The Stonewall Inn was one of the first safe spaces to go and be who you are, back when it was illegal to serve drinks to a LGBTQ+ member, have same sex dancing …You had to have three articles of clothing to match your gender. But during those times, the Stonewall Inn let you feel free to be who you are. We still need these safe spaces. It is important to feel welcomed and we still not do have that in this country,” Kelly said.
While Sweeney moderated the panel in person at NSWCPD, Paige monitored questions submitted by the virtual audience.
One question asked involved what the equality act is and what does it do not only for the LGBTQ+ community, but for the Nation as a whole.
“The ultimate goal is to take the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and expand it to include sexual orientation and gender. As mentioned earlier many of these bills are introduced at a state level and it would not be possible if we have that federal protection in place like we have with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. So, passing the federal equality law would make this the law of the land,” Lentz shared.
The panelists provided their final thoughts on how people can be better allies to the LGBTQ+ community in a professional and private environment.
“Advocating and supporting. Like we mentioned earlier, making sure you are using the proper pronouns, you are not misgendering folks, and you are supporting the community on a local level,” Lentz offered “Also, giving to LGBTQ+ charities and showing up at LGBTQ+ spaces to support them, and making sure you are affirming and letting people authentically be who they are.”
All the panelists agreed, however, that the most influential action is voting as that ensures the current laws are expanded to the LGBTQ+ community.
“The most important thing is to vote, especially in times where we have people that actually want to put us back to 1969. Get them to vote, get these people out of office, and let the rest of the world go on loving each other,” Tree said.
NSWCPD employs approximately 2,800 civilian engineers, scientists, technicians, and support personnel. The NSWCPD team does the research and development, test and evaluation, acquisition support, and in-service and logistics engineering for the non-nuclear machinery, ship machinery systems, and related equipment and material for Navy surface ships and submarines. NSWCPD is also the lead organization providing cybersecurity for all ship systems.