Why I Support LGBT Veterans, and You Should Too
They served our country. Period.
If you need more convincing or would just like to learn more about our LGBT Veteran community keep reading. But first and foremost, remember that these are men and women who have served our country in our armed forces to provide the liberties and freedoms we all cherish.
Full disclosure, I do not have a long history of engagement with the LGBT Community in Houston or inside the military. Before we launched a Veteran LGBT group I had a few LGBT friends that I was connected to mostly through our engagement as business owners in Houston's small business ecosystem locally. I never had strong feelings for or against the LGBT community, and honestly didn't know much more than I had learned from watching Modern Family.
This all started in 2016 when I met by chance Dr. Michael Kauth the National Director for the VA Hospital’s LGBT Program. It started like any meeting with an official in my office, I kept glancing at my inbox wondering how far behind I was falling as we talked about each other’s projects. What woke me up and surprised me was when he mentioned that 3-6% of the active duty military self-identifies as LGBT. That’s huge, veterans don’t self identify for anything. Ask who knows how to drive a truck in the motor pool on a base and not a hand will go up, lest they get “volunteered” for a new task. Reported rates of LGBT identification in the general population is estimated at 2%, so that means that LGBT representation in the force is 2-3 times that of the overall American population with an estimated 8,500 local LGBT Veterans in Houston at a time that less than 1% of Americans choose to serve. That struck me as odd since I didn’t think that there was much or any services directed at LGBT Veterans. Dr. Kauth confirmed that there were relatively few resources available. A over representation of veterans in an identity group with a lack of services has since become a target for creating high impact community groups within our impact model, and that theory was born in this conversation.
While this conversation was educational, it didn’t push us to act. A couple of months later I was doing a community resource tour with Anson Klaber from Leadership Houston. When told that we would visit the Montrose Center I had to look up what it was. When I saw it was the LGBT community center for Houston I was unsure that there needed to be an entire organization for one community group. While touring the facility with Kennedy Loftin their Chief Development Officer I was blown away by the level of needs and services being addressed by the Montrose Center team. The at-risk factors of mental health, specialized healthcare, homeless, job placement issues, and a desire to socialize were exactly what we have been seeing in the veteran community. When asked about services for LGBT Veterans they didn’t have much aside from the fact that they had noticed a lot of the elderly folks in their lunch program were veterans.
With the assistance of Dr. Kauth and Kent, along with some great volunteers like Anson we launched our group in April of 2017. The group was a huge hit and has been the epitome of our values of being fun, positive, and inclusive. The event had a lot of LGBT Veterans in attendance, as well as supporters from the LGBT and veteran communities. The group has had some great stories of connecting veterans to resources, opportunities, and other veterans. We’ve helped folks find jobs, get help for PTSD, substance abuse, and my favorite story is when a Korean War veteran attended in full uniform. He couldn’t believe that after all these years he could come out again and be welcomed with open arms.
Having started this group I have to tell you that I have made some amazing friends, found a tight community of individuals that are passionate, hardworking, and hilarious. The LGBT veterans I know are not charity cases, they're tough and successful. But they can lack acceptance in both the Veteran and the LGBT communities. Often times they've told me about being comfortable in one or the other, but not being both identities in the same room. There was no aspirational narrative about LGBT veterans. I can relate to that as I used to hate the narrative of Iraq vets in the late 2000's and would actively avoid letting people know I was a veteran, because I was focused on being a business owner. Not being able to identify as the two of the most important characteristics of myself (as a business owner and as a veteran) was difficult. I've found that some of my fastest friendships have happened with other veteran business owners, we speak the same language and are able to establish a level of trust in hours, that would normally take years. That's what I've seen we've been able to bring to the LGBT Veteran community.
I don't support LGBT Veterans because it's a diversity and inclusion policy, some left-wing mandate (I’m actually a Republican), or some other off the cuff decision. I support LGBT Veterans because I see my own struggles in them, we've both been there, and we all part of One Veteran Community.
If you’d like to show your support for our LGBT Veterans I’d like to invite you to the 1st ever Veterans LGBT Military Ball on Saturday, September 29th. Like all of our events this will be fun, positive, and inclusive so whether you’re a member of the veteran or LGBT community all are welcome.