Diversity and Inclusion: Reservist helping lead barrier analysis working group for LGBTQ members

  • Published
  • By Bo Joyner

A Reserve Citizen Airman is helping lead a new Air Force team charged with identifying and resolving the issues that disproportionately impede the success of LGBTQ Airmen and Guardians.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning Initiative Team (LIT) was officially formed in March 2021 under the umbrella of the Department of the Air Force’s Barrier Analysis Working Group to find and eliminate barriers in both the Air Force and Space Force.

When Senior Master Sgt. David Smith, an individual mobilization augmentee currently assigned to Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, first heard about the LIT late in 2020, he knew he wanted to be a part. Smith serves as the LIT’s co-chair, along with Col. Shannon Phares, the deputy command surgeon for U.S. Africa Command.

“I want to make a difference, and feel like I can with this amazing team,” Smith said. “We are committed to identifying and addressing those gaps that continue to affect our LGBTQ personnel and their families.”

Phares said the LIT is extremely fortunate to have Smith as its co-chair.

“Senior Master Sgt. Smith is a leader who truly cares about the LGBTQ community and works hard for our team,” Phares said. “He has had his own challenges as a gay man, and his resilience to overcome is something that so many need to hear and can relate to in this organization. His personality, humor and passion for what we are trying to accomplish just sets the tone for the LIT. It’s a true pleasure to work with him as a co-chair.”

Smith first joined the Air Force in 2000, and served on active duty for 10 years. As a Reserve Citizen Airman for the past 11 years, he served as both a traditional Reservist and on Active Guard and Reserve tours before recently transitioning to the IMA world. With his experience on active duty and across the Reserve spectrum, he brings a diverse military perspective to the LIT.

As a divorced father of four who has been married to his husband, Gabriel, for a little over a year, he also brings a unique personal perspective to the team.

“My wife and I divorced in 2014, and that was a time in my life when I really hit rock bottom,” he said. “I struggled for a few years following the divorce to find myself and determined to be open-minded and accept a life that may have been different to that of what I was used to or was supposed to live. I kept my personal life a secret during this time. It wasn’t until 2017 that I started being OK with who I was. My life and career really turned around for the better when I decided I was going to be transparent and vulnerable with people. A lot of people in our community are like that. It takes a long time for some people to come out, and you have to give them that grace.”

Smith said he has heard a lot of stories similar to his own during his time with the LIT.

“Our main goal is to listen to the Airmen, hear their stories and find out where they are facing barriers, and try to bring a resolution,” he said. “That can be something as simple as using pronouns in signature blocks all the way to fertility issues for same sex couples and barriers facing our transgender Airmen.”

The senior NCO said the Air Force has come a long way in allowing LGBTQ members to openly serve, but there is still a long way to go to remove the barriers many LGBTQ members face.

“The fact that we have the LIT is proof that things are getting better,” he said. “I think it’s great that the Air Force is the first service to have a group like the LIT and is serious about identifying and removing the barriers Airmen in our community continue to face. As we mark 10 years since the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ I’m super excited with what the Air Force is doing to break down these barriers and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

On Dec. 20, 2010, President Barack Obama signed legislation that led to the repeal of DADT, which for nearly two decades blocked openly gay personnel from serving in the military. The policy formally ended in September 2011.

The Department of the Air Force created the Barrier Analysis Working Group in 2008 to analyze data, trends and barriers to service for the civilian workforce. Since then, the focus has broadened to include military personnel.

In addition to the LIT, the BAWG includes these teams: the Black/African American Employment Strategy Team, the Disability Action Team, the Hispanic Empowerment and Action Team, the Indigenous Nations Equality Team, the Pacific Islander/Asian American Community Team and the Women’s Initiatives Team.

Airmen or Guardians interested in getting involved with the Barrier Analysis Working Group or any of its teams should contact SAF/ODI at SAF.ODI.Workflow@us.af.mil. #ReserveResilient #ReserveReform