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Former naval aviator tells of how she served with ‘pride and resilience’ at national LGBT Pride Month event

Brynn Tannehill, a former naval aviator and transgender woman who transitioned in 2012, tells her story to NAVAIR employees at a national LGBT Pride Month event June 7. (U.S. Navy photo)

Brynn Tannehill, a former naval aviator and transgender woman who transitioned in 2012, tells her story to NAVAIR employees at a national LGBT Pride Month event June 7. (U.S. Navy photo)

Jun 18, 2018

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“It’s incumbent on all of us to be inclusive. Don’t be afraid to challenge people. Try to reach out to those people who aren’t being heard on your team,” Jim Meade, left, an executive champion of NAVAIR’s LGBTQ+A diversity advisory team, concludes NAVAIR’s national LGBT Pride Month event June 7. Guest speaker Brynn Tannehill, right, told stories of “serving with pride and resilience.” (U.S. Navy photo)

“It’s incumbent on all of us to be inclusive. Don’t be afraid to challenge people. Try to reach out to those people who aren’t being heard on your tea ...

HEADQUARTERS, NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. — Brynn Tannehill sat silently in the backseat of a rental car and listened to her supervisor call a transgender co-worker ugly, gross and an “it.”

Unbeknownst to her co-workers, “I was debating, is it safe to come out at work?” she said. “It’s not acceptance if you can be transgender but you can’t transition. Being in a workplace where you’re tolerated but not accepted isn’t fun.”

Tannehill, a former naval aviator and transgender woman who completed her transition in 2012, spoke as part of NAVAIR’s LGBT Pride Month event here June 7.

Speaking to the theme of “Serving with Pride and Resilience,” she told how she came to serve as a pilot in the U.S. Navy with undiagnosed, untreated gender dysphoria.

“I was so deep in the closet, if it ever leaked, I was done,” she said.

Growing up in Phoenix, Tannehill said she watched F-15s take to the sky, and knew, from the age of six, she was going to be a pilot.

She earned her aviator wings in 1999 and flew SH-60Bs on two deployments to the Arabian Gulf and North Atlantic.

“I still feel a close connection to naval aviation,” she reminisced, after having left the military for private industry in 2008.

While there is no exact figure for how many transgender people serve in the U.S. military, a 2016 study from the RAND Corp. estimated between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender service members are in the active duty military, while between 830 and 4,160 members are on reserve duty.

“We want to serve. We are serving. We are out there,” she said. “Transgender service members deploy as often as non-transgender. How will history look back on us if we take back the ability to serve from people who want to serve, who can serve, who are serving? I don’t think it would be regarded well in hindsight.”

Based on her personal experience, Tannehill made the case for diversity in the workplace, saying it drives innovation, increases creativity, makes recruitment easier, reduces turnover, allows for a larger talent pool and improves employee performance.

“Diversity as strength — this is a message that needs to be hammered home,” she said.

She gave examples of diverse people serving with pride and resilience, including American Messman Third Class Doris “Dorie” Miller, the first African-American to receive the Navy Cross; the Rev. Mychal Judge, a gay Franciscan friar who was the first official victim in 9/11; the 442nd Infantry Regiment, also known as the Nisei Soldiers, comprised of men from the Japanese internment camps who later became the most highly decorated unit in World War II; and Mark Bingham, an openly gay man who helped overwhelm the hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11.

She urged the audience to ask themselves, “Am I here only to support every warfighter, or just certain ones? If they are willing and able to take the same oaths and risks as everyone else, why would they not deserve our full support? Every last one of them out there deserves everything we can do for them.”

For Cmdr. Alyce Grillet, the Patuxent River site lead of NAVAIR’s LGBTQ+A diversity advisory team, which co-sponsored the event, respect and acceptance are paramount.

“I’m grateful to stand in front of you and have you see me as I am,” Grillet, who came out this year to her co-workers after a career of secrecy, said. “We celebrate Pride Month as an active intention of visibility. Visibility is the single most important reason of why we have this. It’s not enough to sit in our cubicles; we all need to help the Department of the Navy remove barriers.”

The LGBTQ+A advisory team was established in 2016 to foster a diverse, inclusive and equitable environment where all individuals — regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression — can fully participate and contribute.

LGBT Pride Month is celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan.

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“We need to value all the talent that is NAVAIR,” Leslie Taylor, an executive champion of NAVAIR’s LGBTQ+A diversity advisory team, tells employees at a national LGBT Pride Month event June 7 in Patuxent River, Md. The team was established in 2016 to foster an inclusive environment for all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. (U.S. Navy photo)

“We need to value all the talent that is NAVAIR,” Leslie Taylor, an executive champion of NAVAIR’s LGBTQ+A diversity advisory team, tells employees at ...

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2 Comments, Please review our Feedback Guidelines.


Nancy Manning-Moore said

The best way for people to see the LGBTQ+ community as "normal" is to live your life, serve your community and serve your nation. We are pursuing the same goals - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


June 19, 2018 at 10:36:35 AM EDT

Tammy Bennefeld said

I think that if you want to serve your counrty it shouldn't matter who you are, man..woman..transgender..gay.. or lesbian, you should have the same rights as anyone else who is straight. They have talent and skills that this country needs and we should appreciate that they WANT to serve and share those qualities.


June 19, 2018 at 7:40:20 AM EDT


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