Openly gay Air Force cadet graduates gift us with their pioneering courage! At personal cost, they point to the truth that the moral arc of the universe bends toward inclusion. Their courage is an invitation to trust in our own imagination and voice, embracing inclusion that banishes fear.
President Obama was the speaker at the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation in Colorado Springs, where these newly graduated lesbian and gay cadets took their rightful place alongside their heterosexual classmates. How fitting that the president who secured the end to LGBT discrimination in the armed forces participated in this historic moment.
For some of us, the fearless courage of the new cadets is a given because we have made strides to live authentic, integrated lives in which we claim the fullness of our humanity. In decades to come, people will look back at this moment and wonder why it was a big deal. It is a seismic moment, reminding us of the courage and self-love that it takes to step beyond whatever encloses us, keeping us from the fullness of our magnificence and well-being -- no matter who we are.
Like many LGBT people, my journey to coming out was a circuitous one. Living in South Africa in the oppressive apartheid years, it felt physically unsafe to be out. In the years that followed in my new home in New York, each step out of the closet to claiming my identity was matched with a half-step back. It did not always feel emotionally and spiritually safe to be transparent. The bad advice of those who loved me, expressing concern for my welfare and employment as they urged me to be circumspect, was like a sedative keeping me from being fully human.
In a transformative moment, I responded to the veiled threats of being outed and attacked for the sexual orientation that comprises a part of my identity. In my night sweats of fear about an imminent outing I discovered a wake-up call. No longer would I ever again live with the threat of denying my fullness. No longer would I freely give such power to others. Instead, I made a choice to claim my story, voice and love just as these cadets have done.
It was a new moment on the road to living an integrated life. My sexual orientation would be as fully embraced as my love of cooking, exercise and mystery novels. It would become a co-equal identifier along with my Palestinian and South African heritage, my experiences as an exile and an immigrant. They would co-exist in unexpected new harmony.
My own fears were not about the people I loved rejecting me. They were all fears about those outside of my immediate circle of trust and love, fears of losing a job and being rejected as a community leader. In naming and befriending my fears, their power to confine and define me was deflated.
The pioneering cadets who are out about who they are have probably not arrived at that truth without courage and struggle. The world needs their voices as much as the suspension of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" needs it in order to live into the promise of full inclusion without threat, fear or intimidation. Their personal struggles dealing with the dying remnants of homophobia as the institution they serve adapts to new realities will still be real. But they already know the enlivening freedom from fear.
Courage emerges from the self-love that demands your own well-being. These Air Force cadets invite others to give voice and imagination to the inclusive well-being of all.
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