Do Tell: Representation matters

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Pamela Hernandez (they/them)
  • 35th Fighter Generation Squadron

Growing up, I was always surrounded by people who looked like me and spoke like me, so it was easy to feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself. It wasn’t until I discovered parts of my identity that I had a hard time finding people to relate to, but that’s why joining the Air Force felt like the perfect opportunity to explore.

As a first-generation military member who grew up in a traditional Puerto Rican household, my sexuality and identity were things that I had to navigate on my own. At basic military training, you’re taught to wear the uniform and to wear it properly, but I had to ask myself “how do I make this uniform my own?”

I like to tell people that the “U.S. Air Force” tape on your chest is a representation of your service to the nation, but your name tape is a representation of your service to yourself.

In everything I do, I try to incorporate every part of me, even the parts of me that people can’t see. That is why, just like representation, pronouns matter to me.

Although the Tongue and Quill authorized the use of pronouns in 2021, it still feels like it happened yesterday. I remember being wary of wanting to use my own pronouns because no one in my office knew them.

As nervous as I was, I did it, and I was not ready for what followed. Customers and peers approached me in the way that I wanted to be addressed and it felt absolutely liberating. To see my co-workers also add their pronouns, regardless of what or if they identified within the LGBTQ community, made me feel absolutely understood.

The use of pronouns is a lot bigger than just a label or marker for sexual preference, and to notice and use an Airman’s preferred pronouns is a sign of respect. People want to be acknowledged and accepted for how they see themselves and not by or how other people perceive them.

In contrast to Amn. Malik Christian’s commentary, “Do Tell: From accepted to included”, I feel I have experienced a lot more discrimination since I joined the Air Force. It’s not easy having your identity picked apart because some people choose to make it about politics, religion, or race, all of which stray away from the main purpose: acknowledgement of how one identifies. That is why I involve myself in diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility panels and programs that not only I identify with, but that other people identify with as well.

This year, I started the Kunsan Pride Council to create an organization that’s focused on empowering and supporting the LGBTQ+ community at Kunsan AB. It’s the first time I’ve started an organization of this magnitude with this much visibility but it’s worth it. It is bigger than me. It’s for the LGBTQ+ community. It’s for the allies. It’s for everyone who believes in the strength of a diverse, equitable and inclusive Wolf Pack.

Representation matters. It should matter to you; it should matter to everyone.