Serving with pride

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nilsa Garcia
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Airmen are charged with the duty of upholding the Air Force core values in all that they do. With the integrity they are expected to embody, comes living a life that is true to who they are—despite their sexual orientation.

Just a decade ago, service members a part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning community had to serve in silence, hiding their sexual orientation due to Department of Defense’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Airman 1st Class Michael Arumugam, 22nd Force Support Squadron retentions technician, has been openly gay since joining the Air Force in 2019. Prior to his enlistment he had come out to his family which was in return answered with disappointment.

“It was hard because I grew up in a Catholic household,” said Arumugam.

Growing up as an active participant in the church, Arumugam knew that his homosexuality went against the beliefs of the church he was taught to practice. It took time for his family to foster acceptance.

“I knew that if something was to ever happen to me, I wanted them to know who I really am,” said Arumugam. “I wanted them to know I’m still Mikey.”

Coming from a town of just over 3,000 people, the decision to join the military as an openly gay man was intimidating for more reasons than one. But since joining, Arumuguam has never felt as if he were treated any differently.

“It was so much like a family when I arrived here in 2019,” said Arumugam. “I was still struggling internally with myself and they’ve been just accepting since day one.”

Societal norms on what gender and sexuality expression should look like can often influence stigmas and homophobia that limits the capacity of others.

“I wanted to join the military to break stereotypes,” said Arumugam. “You don’t think ‘gay’ when you think of the military. I told myself I want to be the first openly gay Chief to put myself out there so that one day someone like me can look up to as an example.”

Although Arumugam has been welcomed with nothing but love and support from his Air Force family, his time has not gone without discrimination from external communities. He vividly remembers an encounter with an LGBTQ hate group yelling obscenities and hate filled messages at him while on an off-base walk with his partner.

“It was very scary,” said Arumugam. “I was terrified because I didn’t want to die.”

Despite the criticism, Arumugam continues to proudly serve his country and refuses to let these groups stop him from achieving his dreams of becoming the first openly gay Chief.

“The world is not how it used to be” said Arumugam. “There are more accepting people in the military because it is so diverse.”

McConnell’s Beyond the Blue initiative takes steps to normalize help-seeking behaviors. These stories communicate struggles and create conversations that go below the surface. If you have been discriminated against in your work center please reach out to McConnell’s Equal Opportunity office at 316-759-3310.