Diversity key as 100th ARW Airman shares personal story for Pride Month

  • Published
  • By Karen Abeyasekere
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

June is Pride Month and dedicated to celebrating the LGBTQ+ communities all around the world. RAF Mildenhall has hosted several events to recognize this, including the Storytellers event, which provided the opportunity for Team Mildenhall members to share their experiences and discuss obstacles they have faced along the way.

Growing up, Lyndsie Duemmel was like many other kids her age; she had no idea what she wanted to do as an adult, but had vague aspirations of being a soccer player, lawyer or a writer.

She took English and writing classes at college in North Carolina, but decided to withdraw after a semester to work for a year. Her mom had since moved to New Mexico, so Duemmel decided to join her after withdrawing from college.

“It wasn’t until I was visiting family in California, and we were out to eat, that I randomly just came up with the idea of joining the Air Force,” said Duemmel, now a master sergeant with the 100th Force Support Squadron at RAF Mildenhall. “I told them I was thinking of joining the Air Force and my aunt’s then-husband encouraged me, so I emailed a recruiter when I got home.”

She joined at 19 and prior to her current position as career assistance advisor, Duemmel was an aircraft hydraulics maintainer for most of her career.

“I’ve been in the military for almost 15 years, and joined in 2006, before the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy was repealed. Before I joined, I’d made a lot of bad decisions and needed some direction in my life,” she said. “At the time I wasn’t open about, or even sure of my sexuality. When I first joined the Air Force, there was nothing really mainstream about gay people that I was exposed to, especially in the United States, and it was just one of those things – I knew there was something different about me, but I didn’t really know what it was.

“At first, I kind of had a small idea that I was attracted to females, but I didn’t really know what that meant. Also, part of the contract you had to sign was about disciplinary stuff essentially saying that if you were homosexual, had partaken in any homosexual activity or planned to, that you would be discharged,” recalled Duemmel. “At the time, for me, it was one of those things like when you read really bad news about something and suddenly get a bad feeling like your heart is sinking into your gut… in my mind, I was saying, ‘OK, well I’m obviously not that, so I’ll just keep going and be a straight person. I just had to kind of tell myself what I had to, because I was only at the beginning of my adult life and was still trying to figure everything out.”

When she came out, her family was very supportive, even though initially she was worried about telling them.

“I was in the military and doing my first tour in England when I came out to my parents. It was pretty awkward because I did it over the phone, and my dad couldn’t really hear what I was saying. I was telling him I like girls and guys, and he said, ‘You like what and fries?’ I told him no, I’m bisexual, and he just said ‘yeah, that’s cool – whatever makes you happy.’ My sister and aunt have been awesome about it and very supportive.”

Duemmel said that she feels there’s still a lot of pressure from society for those who haven’t come out about their sexuality.

“Honestly, for me, being in the UK has probably helped me when it came to being open – people here are just different in that they mind their business and do their own thing,” she said. “When I was over here the first time (2007 to 2015), I would play on local football (soccer) teams and there were plenty of my teammates who were gay and in relationships. It wasn’t awkward when we would all change in the locker room before and after the game, because nobody cared. You shouldn’t have to feel weird because it’s no different.”

Duemmel said she was very hesitant when the DADT policy was finally repealed.

“My close friends knew and that was about it. Going forward even now, if people know, they know – I don’t enter the room like, ‘Hey everybody, by the way I’m a lesbian!’ because nobody is going to walk in saying, ‘Hey guys, I’m straight!’ – I mean, who cares?” she said. “There are people who I’ve worked with for years who tell me they had no idea I was a lesbian. But really, why do they need to know? It doesn’t change who I am.”

She explained that she has really only experienced one negative situation in a work environment regarding her sexuality, while stationed at another base as a maintainer, when she was working with male coworker who was also a good friend of hers.

“We would always help each other out when we were assigned to different aircraft and the other had finished working on theirs,” she said. “By helping each other when needed would get the job done quicker, and we worked well together. But one time – when it was my day off -- I got a message from my supervisor, asking to come back in as he wanted to talk to me.”

Her supervisor then proceeded to ask if the two of them were seeing each other, because of the fact they regularly worked together even when they didn’t need to. He then said that he was thinking of putting them on different shifts so they weren’t able to work alongside each other.

“So even though my friend and I had actually been working together and putting in the extra effort to get the job done, I was getting questioned and my supervisor was assuming I was sleeping with somebody and I said, ‘No, I’m gay – you know I’m gay.’ He then said, ‘Well, I didn’t know if you changed your mind after the last one,’ assuming that I could just flip a switch. I was just dumbfounded that he’d even said that,” she said. “It’s not a choice.”

Duemmel remarked that she’d always gone out of her way to be motivated and a hard worker, and said she’s found by doing that people tend to leave her alone, and it’s harder for them to be derogatory about her when she’s outperforming them.

“I think that society today is really ironic in the sense that everybody wants to be included and they want to be heard, accepted and have equality, but then are so quick to jump to labels, putting us in boxes,” she said. “Being patient and understanding about it is key, because if someone says something derogatory to me about being either female or a lesbian, I don’t have to be offended – if I find out the reason behind it, then take the time to educate or listen to people, then hopefully it will fall in line. It’s like taking the blinders off and wanting to learn more about the people you’re around.”

Duemmel explained that she personally feels that Pride means owning who you are and being authentic, adding that Pride is important because there are still people who are feeling they don’t belong on this Earth because of who they are.

“It’s like celebrating and thanking all the people in the past who rioted, took part in movements and really fought for people in the community to be open and live their lives as who they are; being proud of those who came before us and made it a possibility,” she said. “As a master sergeant, I strive to show Airmen that diversity is what should be happening. I advocate for getting them out of their comfort zone and challenge them to experience different things, or learn something new from somebody else. Staying in your comfort zone and sticking only to what you know – whether personally or professionally – can mean lost opportunities in education and knowledge, so take advantage of opportunities to be around the diverse groups of people in the military.”