A Pride 5K is ready to take flight again at Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s LGBTQ+ Resource Group has been helping make history by creating a culture of inclusion at the base.
History always seems to be in the making at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The area just east of Dayton in Greene and Montgomery counties has been the site of multiple aeronautic achievements, including the mother of all flight-history factoids: Wilbur and Orville Wright’s experimental test flights before they famously got air under their Wright Flyer wings at Kittyhawk.
The active Air Force base currently houses the 88th Air Base Wing (“The Mighty 88th”), Air Force Research Laboratory, the 445th Airlift Wing, the Air Force Institute of Technology and the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
More recently, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s LGBTQ+ Resource Group has been helping make history by creating a culture of inclusion at the base.
This year, the group is bringing back the Pride 5K, an event that dates back to 2011, immediately following the abolishment of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“There were more death threats than registrations for the 5K the first year,” said Mattie Carter, a research scientist for the Air Force Research Laboratory.
To learn more about the LGBTQ inclusion initiatives at Wright-Patterson, The Buckeye Flame spoke with Carter and laboratory Branch Chief Ben Leever about the resource group and their Pride 5K.
What made you want to start this group? And how has participation been?
Mattie Carter (MC): One of the Air Force generals was asking for more efforts around diversity, inclusion and accessibility. Ben put an advertisement in a daily email that we get, asking if anyone was interested in putting together a resource group with the purpose of meeting other members of the LGBTQ community and networking with them. I was the first volunteer, and we have been doing it ever since.
We went from having about 10 members the first year, to now, 40 members. I am super happy with the growth we’ve had; it has been a success story.
Ben Leever (BL): There are a lot of levels of hierarchy within the Air Force. We were maybe the first [LGBTQ+] group at Wright-Patterson and one of the earliest groups in the whole Air Force.
It has not been many years since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed. What are some challenges the LGBTQ+ community still encounters?
MC: There are still a lot of issues for sure; overall, there is still a cultural barrier. People are still running into microaggressions at work and it’s definitely not super well-accepted, probably because of the culture of the Air Force and the history. When we started the group, I didn’t know any other LGBTQ members that worked at my workplace, so finding each other has been hard because not everyone is out and loud about it. That is something I have encountered.
BL: At least for us, there are definitely not the same institutional barriers that there were 10 years ago under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
I think different people have different experiences based on their immediate work environment. There are plenty of examples where the immediate work environment is very supportive, and I certainly have felt like that in the last few years.
I think it’s easy to say that is not the same for everybody, and for transgender individuals it is maybe the most difficult. It’s not a policy issue anymore. It’s more that people might experience this no matter where they work by having colleagues that are not as accepting. That is more the situation now compared to 10+ years ago.
Tell us a little more about the 5K event happening in June.
MC: When “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed, the first year following that, individuals wanted to put together this Pride 5K. Many of them are still involved with the resource group today. Those individuals had more death threats than registrations, they had to have onsite security following the runners as they did this celebratory pride 5K. Because of that, it was never organized again.
Starting this group and having some of the members join who experienced that first Pride 5K they wanted to put it together again and decided now is the time. This event is very bare bones still. We offer a place to run and water and that’s it, but it’s a group of people who are very passionate about the efforts that are going on, both on the base and in the Air Force at large.
This will be our third year doing it, and we’ve had an increase in participation every year. This event is open to the public, but is definitely focused on celebrating those who are LGBTQ in the Air Force workplace.
BL: The response has been very positive in the past three years; very different from what Mattie had originally described. We have had senior leaders from the Air Force participate so that has been really positive for us. 🔥
- The Pride 5K will be held on June 8 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and is free and open to everyone who registers. You can register here.
- Check out the rest of our 2023 LGBTQ+ Ohio Pride Guide by going here.
The Buckeye Flame is an online platform dedicated to amplifying the voices of LGBTQ+ Ohioans to support community and civic empowerment through the creation of engaging content that chronicles their triumphs, struggles, and lived experiences.