HEADQUARTERS, NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– “Respect, dignity and service, all together — that’s an incredible theme,” said Intelligence Specialist Chief Petty Officer Melody Stachour, who spoke as part of Naval Air Systems Command’s (NAVAIR) national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) Pride Month event June 27.
“Our greatest advocates of the civil rights movement had not yet grasped the key truth behind the concept we now call intersectionality — that when we make things better for those in the worst circumstances, we get better ‘all together,’” Stachour said.
Stachour, a transgender sailor serving as the senior enlisted leader for Naval Criminal Investigative Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., discussed the history of the LGBTQ community serving openly in the military, dating back to the early 1950s.
In a series of events known as “The Lavender Scare,” then-President Dwight Eisenhower declared gay men and lesbians to be a threat to the security of the country and unfit for government service.
“The Lavender Scare was when we as a nation set out to systematically exclude LGBT people from serving in government in any way,” Stachour explained. “Lists were drawn up, people unceremoniously fired, and new security rules put in place.”
During her presentation, Stachour touched on specific points in history important to the LGBTQ+ community. But why remark on the history of LGBTQ+ in the military when we’ve celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride Month for the last 11 years? “Because of the three values we started with: respect, dignity and service,” Stachour said. “During that era, we could never pull all three of them together in relation to our LGBTQ sailors. And while being queer had no influence on my choice to move from the active component to the reserve in 2008, I had no idea how profound an impact it would have on both my life and my service from there on.”
Stachour outed herself in early 2012 but also discovered policies that could have had her separated for service incompatibility had she been discovered as anything other than cisgender. She couldn’t step fully out of the closet for another four years when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter celebrated the end of Pride Month 2016 with an announcement that the longstanding ban on transgender people serving openly in the military was over.
“Then, on July 27, 2017, three tweets went out, seemingly declaring that being trans was incompatible with military service and that trans people would not be allowed to serve in the military in any form,” Stachour said.
Her teammates read the tweets, too. “The consensus was unanimous: Someone being trans had no bearing on their opinion of the service member,” she said. “What mattered was that the person was willing to serve, be trained, come downrange and have their backs. Knowing that I had supportive shipmates and battle buddies who didn’t even know they were supporting specifically me went a long way.”
She transitioned in 2018 with nearly 18 years of combined active and reserve service. During that time, she was selected for advancement to chief petty officer (CPO) and completed her CPO initiation that same summer.
As a believer in the value of supportive leadership and growing and teaching sailors to succeed, she mentors transgender sailors and their leaders at commands around the Navy and the world.
“I’m a big fan of reverse mentoring,” she said. “Juniors working with a more senior community help inform what the landscapes look like.
“The fact that our Navy draws people from so many walks of life means that we create sailors who have many different upbringings,” she said. “In a very real sense, this is a good thing, because it requires that we learn to become one Navy team, putting aside differences to accomplish mission.”
NAVAIR Commander Vice Adm. Carl P. Chebi also discussed the need for diversity and inclusion within NAVAIR during his opening remarks.
“I know a truly diverse and inclusive organization is one where all employees feel comfortable bringing their true identities to the workplace,” he said. “I know our people are the driving force behind our success here at NAVAIR, and diversity, equity and inclusion are at the foundation of that success. We derive tremendous strength from working together as a team of diverse individuals, united by a common purpose: to deliver the warfighting capability the fleet needs to win at a cost we can afford.”
Towards the end of her presentation, Stachour encouraged everyone to go outside their comfort zones. “The vast majority of us, in our education and upbringing, got an incredibly solid cross-section of knowledge, culture and imagination from voices that were mostly white, mostly men and mostly straight,” she said. “In addition to the voices we hear from a lot, I want to ask you to look for the voices of people outside that group — voices that aren’t men, aren’t white, aren’t straight or aren’t cisgender.”
For more information on NAVAIR’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, visit https://jobs.navair.navy.mil/NAVAIR-Diversity-Inclusion.