WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – In 1994, Gina Giardina had just graduated high school in Beavercreek, Ohio and started working with before and after school youth programs and then went on to teaching preschool, but she had a secret she couldn’t share with anyone for fear of reprisal.
“I did my best to keep my sexual orientation hidden, because I had heard many stories of teachers being fired simply because they were gay or lesbian,” said Giardina, who now is a corporate communication analyst for the 711th Human Performance Wing here. “But lying over and over isn’t healthy; it has negative effects on morale and more importantly, mental health.”
For many years during her employment, she was under the 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' era. Even though that was put in place to help active duty military members, who were part of the LGBT community, remain in the service, they had to keep their private lives private. For Giardina, the law didn’t induce a positive and protecting edict.
Giardina said, it took about 17 years to repeal that policy and along with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, service members can now serve openly, and their significant others are given the same protections and support as straight members.
“I never thought I'd be able to get married, to carry a spouse on my health insurance,” said Giardina. “I can adopt now too and that hasn't always been allowed - a gay person adopting a child. I'm an adoptee myself so I'm now able to give a child what I was given - love.”
When asked what she thinks the Air Force and the military has done right during these past few years, Giardina said, “Every person has the ability to contribute to the mission–every person, and I think with the end of DADT and now with the discussions of possibly allowing transgendered Airmen to serve, the military recognizes this.”
There are many songs, philosophies, quotes and sayings about change and being the change you want to advance, she explains, “For me, that involves being mindful of my own biases and listening more than talking. And respect - it goes both ways.”
“It's not fair for me to demand respect but then not to have empathy and at least make an effort to see from someone else's perspective. Change - especially societal change - is slow. It demands patience,” said Giardina.
Another way Giardina attempts to be part of the change is by teaching. She teaches part-time in the Women and Gender Studies Department at Wright State University.
“I enjoy teaching in this program because not only am I able to teach students about the history of all the various oppressions as they relate to gender, race, class, sexual orientation and all the combinations, but I also focus on media literacy and being mindful of how information is fed to us.”
Giardina explains that regardless of laws that are in place, there will always be people who are disrespectful and have no desire to be mindful of their biases or to understand another point of view and her response to them is walking away. “That in and of itself is a response,” she said.
The Air Force policies regarding the LGBT community has had a very positive affect on Giardina’s outlook and given her a renewed confidence, and during her tenure here at the base, she has received a bachelor’s and master’s degree and works part-time as an adjunct faculty member at Wright State University.