Last week, Brigadier General Tammy Smith became the first openly gay officer of flag rank in the United States army. She was promoted in an Aug. 10 ceremony at Arlington at which Brig. Gen. Smith's wife, Tracey Hepner, pinned the star onto her uniform.
"While the [Dept. of Defense] position is that orientation is a private matter, participating with family in traditional ceremonies such as the promotion is both common and expected of a leader," Smith said in a statement. "Looking at the photos of Tracey's joy as she pins the star on my shoulder is a memory that will imprint my heart forever. Her support keeps me Army Strong."
Smith's promotion came just under a year after the repeal of the controversial Clinton-era policy "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), which prohibited gays from openly serving in the military.
Her new job has her serving as the Director of the Army Reserve Human Capital Core Enterprise (HCCE), overseeing the professional development and recruitment of Army Reserve soldiers.
"There's this idea that coming out can hurt your career," says Joshuea Seefried, co-founder and co-director of Outserve, an association of active-duty LGBT personnel, "and [Brig. Gen. Smith] showed that it won't." Even though a majority of the rank and file opposed DADT before it was repealed, Smith's promotion signifies an increased acceptance of gays in the military that goes beyond the actual law, Seefried says.
Smith has "continued to pave the path" for gays in the military, partly by breaking the traditional mold "that you can only rise if you fit it," he says.
"It's all about visibility," he continued. "If we remain invisible, we are a myth. If we are visible, we show that we're part of the team, and that we contribute."