The following archive represents interviews conducted, produced and transcribed since 2011 by Chelsea Rae Klein. The interviews depicted here have been edited for online publication, and in some cases represent only brief excerpts of much longer interviews. The ADMA is an oral history project; interviews express individual experiences and opinions of the interviewees and are not meant to assume collective or institutional values or beliefs. The ADMA is an ongoing, independent production. Full or expanded interviews, or additional audio excerpts may be published at a later date following initial publication, and new interviews will continue to be published as they are conducted, as resources allow. The ADMA is a work in progress that strives to collect stories that are as diverse as the queer community with the intention of tracing an expansive, largely undocumented history as told by those who lived it.
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Jerre L. Brown
Interview conducted- February 19, 2014
Jerre L. Brown, who retired as State Command Sergeant Major for the Colorado National Guard in 1998 was the Nation’s first female of that title. During her quarter of a century of service, Jerre never came out in the military. Even today, “it took a near death experience on the part of my partner for me to get up the courage to even be able to tell my manager that I’m a lesbian. That’s how far in the closet I am. Because the fear of going to prison- can you even imagine if someone said, ‘you’re going to prison. We are going to lock you up and take away every right that you have and you may be here for a long time’- simply because of who you love? Can you imagine that? That’s how we grew up in the military.”
JERRE, ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND ASSAULT, AND HOW SHE MADE IT AS A WOMAN IN THE MILITARY:
I was of the last group of women to go through a completely separate service known as the Women’s Army Core. This was called WAC, it no longer exists, they integrated women in 1976, I think. When I joined the military we had makeup classes in boot camp. We had to wear skirts that we starched with enough starch they would stand up by themselves. Literally by themselves. When I went to basic training I was the Goldie Hawn that showed up with my wig. I had long hair and I had my wig box and my big suitcases and I was like ‘why are you being mean to me? This is awful.’ We weren’t allowed to be with guys at all, it was all segregated. They had consertina wire around what they called the WAC Shack to keep the men away. That was a different time. I guess if I could tell you two things about my experience in the Army, because it spanned two and a half decades, it would be that women grew tremendously in terms of doing whatever it is they wanted to do and secondly, about being gay- I don’t think that my being a lesbian has in any way hurt me, but I was not out you see, I didn’t have the opportunity. So had I been out when I was still on active duty, I never would have been able to achieve the things that I did achieve in terms of being the first female State Sergeant Major. And I did stop my career early. I had had aspirations to go on to become the National Guard Bureau Sergeant Major, where instead of having 3,600 troops I would have had 365,000 troops. But the mere fact of my lifestyle, I couldn’t allow myself to dream that dream. I knew it would never be a reality; they would have been in my business. And at that time I would have been a disgrace to my uniform if I had been found out as a lesbian.
Ashely Thomas Medcalf
Interview conducted- February 18, 2014
Ashley has served active duty and as a reservist for the U.S. Air Force for 13 years. He grew up an “Army Brat” as his mother enlisted when he was a boy of nine. Originally from Arkansas, his family moved to bases in California, Texas, and Germany and in that adolescent period of travel, Ashley was exposed to a range of gendered and race-based identity expectations. At nine, after being teased at school, he went home and told his parents that he wanted to be called Thomas, not Ashley. “It was the first time that I started covering. I had created now, an outside perception. Simply because they had started calling at me Ashley’s a girls name! Ashley’s a girl’s name! Well it wasn’t a girl’s name, because I’m not a girl. That was the first time when I said this is not going to happen. Thomas is a boy’s name, that’s who I’m going to be…”
ASHLEY ON LOVE, ENTITLEMENT, FREEDOM AND HAPPINESS:
That changed my idea about safety. Even though we were abused as kids, we always had some place to go back to, to be safe. My mom was eventually coming back. I had reasons to stay, to protect my brother and sister. I realized I was no longer able to be protected. [Not] coincidentally, it started a huge fear in me of the white gay community. Shorty after that I PCSed to the next base and I was only around gay black military and gay black Americans, or minority groups. I started having panic attacks. I knew I couldn’t say anything about it. I couldn’t go and yell to someone that I was raped. How? I was already under investigation for being gay for something I didn’t even do.
How do I say I was hurt and not say that I’m gay? Even if I wasn’t gay, it doesn’t matter. Because under don’t ask, don’t tell, under the UCMJ, that is a homosexual act and I can be kicked out because of it. So of course I’m not going to tell anybody, and of course it didn’t happen. The following years were the worst because I started having panic attacks and I didn’t even know they were panic attacks. I went into a really deep depression. I had issues where I just wanted to be the smallest person I could be. I don’t know why that was, it was so weird… it was a hard time to get through. I didn’t have any reasons that I was being the way that I was. I wouldn’t remember what I looked like for weeks on end. I had this really odd idea of my own perception of who I was. Like, what I looked like. I ended up going to counseling, but not being able to talk about what I needed to talk about because I was in fear of being kicked out. At the time I was in a really bad relationship and needed to get out of it but didn’t know how to get out of it. The relationship was making me more and more depressed. I went to counseling and couldn’t talk. So I ended up going on anxiety medication to subside the symptoms of panic attacks and ended up being deployed, which helped a lot. It was like my alone time. We had invaded Iraq in July, I volunteered and was a part of the second team over there.