Tammy Smith: America’s First Openly Gay General

Tammy Smith has been promoted to brigadier general, thus becoming the first American general officer who also happens to be openly gay.

Tammy Smith has been promoted to brigadier general, thus becoming the first American general officer who also happens to be openly gay.

Stars and Stripes (“Smith becomes first gay general officer to serve openly“):

Army reserve officer Tammy Smith calls her recent promotion to brigadier general exciting and humbling, saying it gives her a chance to be a leader in advancing Army values and excellence.

What she glosses over is that along with the promotion she is also publicly acknowledging her sexuality for the first time, making her the first general officer to come out as gay while still serving. It comes less than a year after the end of the controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” law.

“All of those facts are irrelevant,” she said. “I don’t think I need to be focused on that. What is relevant is upholding Army values and the responsibility this carries.”

But Smith’s pinning ceremony on Friday marks an important milestone for gay rights advocates, giving the movement its most senior public military figure. She has already been assigned as deputy chief at the Office of the Chief at the Army Reserve, and spent much of 2011 serving in Afghanistan.

Stars and Stripes interviewed Smith last summer before the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal was finalized. Speaking under a pseudonym, she said she had no plans to come out to her colleagues, but was looking forward to the relief of knowing that her career wouldn’t be threatened if she was found out.

“Finally my partner and I will be able to go out and have drinks together without worrying,” she said then.

A year later, Smith, 49, said she is still more focused on the work ahead than the significance of her personal life. But her wife, Tracey Hepner, said the last year has been a dramatic transformation for both of them.

“The support we’ve received has been amazing,” she said. “I wasn’t surprised that people were so accepting, but in some cases it has been even celebratory. It’s like nothing has really changed for us, and yet everything has changed.”

Smith’s wife is much more of an activist than she is. Hepner co-founded the Military Partners and Families Coalition, a key voice in the debate over benefits and military programs for same-sex partners.

Friday’s private promotion ceremony for Smith wasn’t the first that Hepner has attended, but it was the first where the pair didn’t have to hide any details of their relationship. The pair have been together for more than a decade.

Tom Ricks observes, “It is an interesting moment, in part because it is so uncontroversial.”

While I think Ricks is right, a couple of caveats are in order. First, this just happened today. And most of the news reports thus far are in the gay press and niche outlets. The sole exception is the right-wing Washington Times, which thus far has only a very short clip on the matter presented without commentary. Second, being a lesbian in the military simply hasn’t come with the same stigma as being a gay man. When one of the latter comes out—and it’ll happen sooner rather than later—we’ll really know how much the culture has evolved.

via Blake Hounshell

FILED UNDER: Gender Issues, Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. mattb says:

    Second, being a lesbian in the military simply hasn’t come with the same stigma as being a gay man.

    Incredibly astute statement sir. Very true, from everything I can tell.

    Which also makes the US Military somewhat unique in these things.

  2. Blue Shark says:

    What a thrill it is to see

    Progress

    in this most “regressive” of American Decades

  3. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I’ve never been in the military, so I apologize if my question is inartful. Does the fact that she’s “just” a General in the Reserves lessen the impact of this at all?

  4. al-Ameda says:

    A year later, Smith, 49, said she is still more focused on the work ahead than the significance of her personal life. But her wife, Tracey Hepner, said the last year has been a dramatic transformation for both of them.

    Well, there’s at least one national fast food chicken franchise, that we know of, whose CEO does not approve of this.

    Seriously, I wish her and her partner well.

  5. Ron Beasley says:
  6. Ron Beasley says:

    @mattb: Actually it’s true even in the Bible – very little discussion of lesbians.

  7. Boyd says:

    Even though I finished my active duty tenure almost two decades ago, during most of my career it was usually assumed that any unmarried female with more than about four years in the military was a lesbian, and nobody was too concerned about it.

    Gay guys? Not so much, as several of my friends can personally attest.

  8. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Ron Beasley: …and a few minutes later he told all the single ladies to put an aspirin between their legs.

  9. Tim says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: These days the lines between “reserve” and “regular” is more blurred than it has been in a very long time. Many reserve members, officers and enlisted, are serving long stretches on active duty, and not just for deployments to war zones. I think any distinction made would be more related to her being in a support field versus combat arms, and that wouldn’t be a big deal to most.

  10. Bennett says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: No. I’m assuming that she is “active Reserve”, meaning that her post is the Reserves, but she works full time for it. Just like Guard and Reserve centers have full time staff who are active duty.

  11. TastyBits says:

    @Gromitt Gunn

    … Does the fact that she’s “just” a General in the Reserves lessen the impact of this at all?

    I have been out for a while, but after the first Gulf War, Marine reservists were no longer “weekend warriors”. I would guess that is the case today. A bigger determinate would be combat experience. Females cannot be assigned to combat arms units, but anybody in Iraq and Afghanistan is in the shit. If she is a pogue, she will probably do better in an admin billet. Otherwise, she should do well as a Commanding a Division(?), but I am not sure on the combat restrictions. Either way, she will be given the respect of her rank (at least by Marines).

  12. David says:

    @TastyBits: As someone who spent 6 years in the Army, a star is a star is a star, nothing else matters. And if you are a soldier who cannot give proper respect to a general officer? Well, that’s what the UCMJ is for.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    Is that photo of General Smith and her wife? They look like a very happy couple. I wish them my very best wishes and congratulations on the promotion.

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    @Boyd: I was in the military over 40 years ago. I was not in a combat unit but an intelligence unit. Even most of the enlisted men were college graduates and were analysts, and interpreters. We had fellow soldiers that were gay and we knew it. There were no problems.

  15. superdestroyer says:

    I wonder how long before the first sex scandal involving homosexuals in the military or the first discrimination claim made in the military where a homosexual leader will be accused of discriminating against heterosexuality in his/her command.

    Given how well the homosexual officers have been at organizing themselves into a massive support groups, I would guess the claims of discrimination will come before the sexual harassment scandal.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Oh brother…. Do you have to work at stupid or does it just come natural?

  17. PogueMahone says:

    @superdestroyer:

    In SD’s mind, gay soldiers can’t help themselves but to shag each other anywhere and everywhere, and make unwanted advances to the ever diminishing heterosexual soldier.
    And gay support groups are really organized conspiracies to stamp out heterosexuality in the military.

    See, this is a classic example of the right-wing fear that if you let one in, they will eventually take over the place and we’ll have an all gay army.

    It’s right-wing ignorance and bigotry on full display. And like a car accident on a highway, I can’t help but to rubberneck as I drive by.

    Cheers.

  18. superdestroyer says:

    @PogueMahone:

    The homosexual support groups are organized to help homosexual soldiers advance faster than everyone else. The real question is how long will it be that some straight service member misses out of a plush assignment because a homosexual leader is stacking his/her staff with homosexuals. How soon will it be before some straight servicemember will be complaining about a “military gay mafia” such as already exists in the media http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_wright_show/2012/06/04/marc_ambinder_on_washington_s_gay_mafia_.html

    Blacks have been open in the military for years in favoring each other and many black generals are open about filling their staffs with black service members. How soon do you think homosexuals will be doing the same thing.

    Also, sex scandals occur in the military all of the time. Do you really think that homosexuals will be exempt. http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/10/sex-scandal-ends-air-force-colonels-career/

  19. Gay schmay: who cares?

    But since when did we start wearing service ribbons over the right uniform pocket?

    (Only U.S. or foreign unit awards are supposed to be worn on the right side.)

  20. superdestroyer says:

    @Consul-At-Arms:

    Those are both unit awards. Joint Meritorious and Army Superior unit award.

    However, what is with two sets of wings?

  21. @superdestroyer:

    Fair enough; I couldn’t make out the metallic “laurel leaves” frame in this picture, but I found another version where it was somewhat more visible.

    The badges look like jump wings, a CAB, and a rigger’s badge.

  22. mike says:

    @superdestroyer: one parachutist and one rigger

  23. TastyBits says:

    @Consul-At-Arms

    But since when did we start wearing service ribbons over the right uniform pocket?

    I cannot see the left pocket, but if she is wearing her medals, she would have the ribbons on the right.