The Military Partners and Families Coalition (MPFC) walked proudly among non-governmental military service organizations in the Welcome Home Our Heroes Parade held last Saturday.
“We are military families who happen to be gay, not gay families who happen to be military. The outreach from non-governmental military support organizations has been tremendous. The welcome mat is out for our military families,” said Tracey Hepner, co-founder of MPFC.
The Welcome Home Our Heroes Parade brought to light MPFC’s message of being regular military families, who strive to balance service to the nation, while also tasked with the daily responsibilities of a committed relationship. The organization felt Richmond and fellow onlookers needed to see their organization in that role, disregarding any stereotypes or preconceived notions.
During the parade, countless parade attendees photographed MPFC’s sign stating “Strong Families=Strong Military.” While in route, the MPFC participants received positive feedback like knowing smiles and even received a “thumbs up” from crowd members.
MPFC was given the opportunity to hold an information table located at the resources village following the parade. Veterans, parents and family members embraced the opportunity to discuss the unique military family challenges that the MPFC representatives face.
Following the repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell, Servicemembers aren’t granted the same access to many entitlements that are offered to their heterosexual peers because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Even family support benefits aren’t available to LGBT service men and women, such as family healthcare, relocation assistance or access to military installation PXs and Commissaries.
MPFC intends to enlighten military supporters about these blocked entitlements and steer LGBT military families to national support organizations that are not limited by DOMA, while also linking together these military support groups providing a support network. These military support organizations are unable to replicate Servicemember family benefits; however, it provides valuable resources for these families.
MPFC doesn’t focus on pushing for a particular political agenda, but providing support for LGBT Servicemembers and a community where these men and women can raise their children with love and care. According to Hepner, power is that of being able to present their authentic selves at military-centric activities.
“It was an honor to participate. We not only welcomed home Iraq war veterans, but we welcomed home a segment of the military who struggled with feeling excluded from military life due to living under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” said Hepner.
Rachel Williams is a rising senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with a calling to be a voice to the voiceless; and passion is to bring gender equality and ethnic justice to the forefront of RVA.
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