Everybody deserves acceptance

  • Published
  • By Roland Balik
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Chief Master Sgt. Jeremiah Grisham, 436th Mission Support Group superintendent, knew as a young Airman that he wanted to be a chief one day in his Air Force career.

Having family members who served in the military, the armed forces offered him an opportunity to live on his own and learn valuable skills.

A native of Lakewood, Colorado, Grisham could not follow his original plan to enlist in the Navy due to his eyesight but was granted a waiver by the Air Force.

He was concerned that, during the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” his sexuality could potentially have a negative impact on his career.

“I always knew that I was gay; there was never any question in my mind,” said Grisham. “I didn’t struggle with my sexuality at all. I wasn’t ‘out’ in high school or anything like that. My circle of friends was very small, and I didn’t experience any harassment or anything like that.”

His desire to serve and honor his family’s military service outweighed his potential concerns. After graduating from high school and a short period of working in the civilian sector, Grisham enlisted in the Air Force in January 1998 on his eighteenth birthday as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist.

Grisham says that he was out to his friends and many of his supervisors and flight commanders throughout his career, noting that he was, however, cautious with a few.

The period of DADT, which was the first 13 years of the chief’s career, didn’t have an effect on him professionally.

“EOD is a community of pretty rough individuals, but we are a family,” said Grisham. “Professionally, it [DADT] didn’t really affect me. It didn’t hold back my career. I was not ever outed, punished or kept from promotion or awards. Although, I know that I am very, very lucky in that regard, because I know many, many people who were affected.”

When asked about the repeal of DADT, Grisham said, “I had overwhelmingly positive feelings. It was just amazing. Now for me, since I have been out for so long, not a lot had changed but just knowing that it was okay. Even though my circle of friends, and honestly, my local leadership many times knew, there was always a kernel of fear if the wrong person ever found out, particularly as open as I had been my whole adult life; there would be no question. If the wrong leader had found out, then they could have easily terminated my career, which at that point I invested half of my adult life in. So, to have that lifted from me was fantastic.”

Based on his experiences as an Airman, both under DADT and after its repeal, Grisham has advice for his fellow military members.

“The advice I would have for everybody is to accept who you are first, and then recognize that everybody deserves acceptance from you as well,” said Grisham. “You can’t be afraid of other people’s reaction to who you are. You just have to be okay with who you are and recognize that who you are is pretty freaking great. The advice I would have to anybody but to [sic] particularly to my LGBTQ brothers and sisters in the military is, be true to yourself, be accepting of yourself, be excellent at your job, be an excellent Airman, and demand that your leaders recognize that excellence in you as an Airman and accept who you are as a human.”

The personal and professional opinion of Grisham closely aligns with the June 15 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals and others based on sexual orientation, not just race, color, national origin, religion or sex.

“It’s absolutely phenomenal news. It’s wonderful that those protections have been extended to transgender and LGBT folks,” said Grisham. “It is so amazing to be alive in a time where Americans, humans, have the right to work and earn a wage to feed their family … and they can’t be fired just because of who they love or can’t be fired because of something about them that is them and that they can’t change nor should they change or want to change.”

As a chief master sergeant, Grisham shared a couple of changes related to diversity that he thinks would make for a better Air Force.

“I would continue to push my fellow leaders to see diversity not as a thing to achieve, not to see diversity and acceptance as a finite goal, but to view it as an infinite goal,” said Grisham. “I want to see diversity as a leadership tool that I use and exercise to arrive at the best conclusion for problems, arrive at solutions that are both novel and excellent, to bring in viewpoints that otherwise I might not have.”

As LGBTQ Pride Month wraps up, the chief’s experience and opinions during and after DADT and the recent Supreme Court ruling may initiate conversations to make the Air Force a better place for all in terms of diversity and acceptance.