2024 LGBTQ+ Pride Month

Sgt. Leon Blair

Alpha Company 103D Brigade Engineer Battalion, Pennsylvania Army National Guard

Blair joined the Guard in 2019 and is deployed to Somalia to support the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa mission. He also served in Lithuania in 2021 as part of NATO Engineer Thunder Training. A nurse in civilian life, he says this month's Pride observance "means a lot to me, as it conveys to Soldiers that we are supported regardless of our backgrounds, race, gender and or sexual orientation."

Cpl. Easter Johnson

Institute Support Unit, Headquarters, Arkansas Army National Guard

Johnson has served since 2021. She says Pride month "means honoring the bravery of those who serve regardless of who they love. It’s giving acceptance to the culture within itself and creating a safe space for Soldiers like me who come to work to serve and not be judged. We have so much controversy on the outside. Some people love the military, and others not so much. The last thing we need is having that within our organization based on what someone does when they go home to their loved ones. I love that we can recognize the diverse contributions of all members of the military family."

1st Lt. Jack D. Labonte

District of Columbia National Guard

Labonte joined the Army in 2014 and the Guard in 2022. “Pride means recognizing and appreciating the tireless efforts of those before us and the basic human rights that followed. There’s a lot of effort and progress that got us where we are today. Presence matters. Even though we’ve come a long way, we still need to recognize there are many who aren’t comfortable with living in their truth. You can’t be the best version of yourself or ‘All You Can Be’ without doing it authentically.”

Tech. Sgt. Sarah M. McClanahan

National Guard Bureau

McClanahan, a public affairs specialist, joined the Guard in 2015 and was part of the COVID-19 pandemic response in Maryland. She traveled frequently to Maryland National Guard partners Estonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of the State Partnership Program. McClanahan says diversity is one of the great strengths of the United States. "Pride Month is a reminder that there is a community out there, just like me, that sees you and supports you. For me, finding that community was life-changing, and watching the world grow into a more accepting, loving place gives me hope for those who come after me."

Maj. David M. Schonberg

Headquarters, District of Columbia National Guard

Schonberg joined the the Kansas Air National Guard in 2006 and the DC National Guard in 2016. He deployed to Qatar in 2018 and says a highlight of his service was his time in the 184th Intelligence Wing of the Kansas Air National Guard. "This month is recognizing that the National Guard creates a space for anyone to contribute to mission, regardless of the category we may place people into. There’s also an ability for people to step into their full potential. Labels stay at the door and each one contributes what they have to offer."

Lt. Col. Wesley Delaine Thomas

Medical Detachment, District of Columbia National Guard

Thomas, a Guardsman since 2015, is state dental officer for the D.C. National Guard. “This is a month to reflect and honor those who were not able to serve authentic and openly. It’s also a time to recognize the blueprint and groundwork they paved for us, for people like me to serve open and proudly. To me, Pride means intersectionality and representation. There’s still stigma associated with being queer or a member of the LGBTQ+ community, so it’s extremely important to have more diversity across duty position and rank. I want more people to know there’s multifaceted Soldiers and Airmen serving in your National Guard. Diversity is absolutely a strength that makes us appreciate different perspectives and makes us stronger collectively.”

Maj. Michelle Watkis

Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment (HHD) 372nd Military Police Battalion, District of Columbia National Guard

Watkis has served since 2011 and aspires to be a bilateral affairs officer. "“Pride means acceptance. I joined the military when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was still enforced. Over the last decade, I’ve seen the transformation — military leaders accepting individuals for who they are, their pronouns, and their authentic selves daily. Diversity is a warfighting imperative. Diversity allows differences in thought, action, and tenacity in planning and execution. It also potentially will exceed requirements and expectations. My message to teens and young adults is to take the leap and serve. You have nothing to lose. Your status as an LGBTQ+ member has no bearing on your potential.”

Master Sgt. Arthur Mondale Wright

Office of the Commanding General-PAO, District of Columbia National Guard

Wright served in the Air Force from 1999-2010, Air Force Reserve from 2010-2016 and joined the Guard in 2016. He has deployed to Iraq, Qatar and Kuwait and participated in the first senior leader visit to Burkina Faso in 2019 as part of the State Partnership Program. “Pride is recognizing the work that still needs to be done during the month of June and 365 days a year. While service members no longer live under the fear of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” many Citizen Soldiers and Airmen reside in states void of explicitly LGBTQ-inclusive comprehensive non-discrimination laws. And the compounding effects of discrimination for Black and Brown LGBTQ Americans still exists in employment, health care systems, police interactions, and negatively erodes mental and physical health outcomes. This is a month to hold our citizenry more accountable — not just public figures and corporations.”

Tech. Sgt. Lang Xiao

201st Airlift Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard

Born and raised in China, Xiao joined the New York Air National Guard in 2013 and the D.C. Air Guard 10 years later. He deployed to Jordan and Syria in 2017 and Afghanistan in 2020. “This is a month to highlight and celebrate those who sacrificed their lives or time to get LGBTQ+ protections and policies that prevent discrimination based on someone’s expression, gender identity or sexual orientation. Still, change is constant and there’s much more work to be done. Some in the LGBTQ+ community remain overlooked and marginalized. Our rainbow represents many colors, shapes and sizes, yet there’s categorical divides. I’d like to see more unity and inclusion during Pride.”