Veteran Tirzah Parrish LeFeber served in the US Air Force for eight years, moving anywhere from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas to Balad, Iraq. While serving one’s country can create many difficult experiences for military personnel, Parrish LeFeber had one additional hardship in the service.
By the time Parrish LeFeber joined the Air Force, they had identified themselves as lesbian and had already told their family they were dating women. But when they entered the Air Force in 2002, Parrish LeFeber had to start keep their dating life a secret.
“’Don’t ask, don’t tell’ really separated and disrupted your ability to make peers in the military…you didn’t want to share even if you suspected because you would lose your career,” said Parrish LeFeber.
As Parrish LeFeber says, they would go to military events and have to pretend their partner was only a friend. This led to many uncomfortable situations in which their unit members would flirt with their partner. “You had to pretend, you know, that that was just a friend…that was difficult,” says Parrish LeFeber.
One particularly tough aspect of this period was airport farewells with loved ones. Leaving your home and family can be one of the hardest parts of serving in the military. But Parrish LeFeber was not able to have that airport experience like everyone else. Under the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy their partner and two children did not exist.
“When I was deployed, families got to see, got to go past security and wait for their loved one who is deploying. I wasn’t able to partake in that…my partner waited in the airport parking lot.”
Still, there was one particularly bright point for Parrish LeFeber during their military service.
Parrish LeFeber says at one point some people outside their unit made derogatory comments about their sexuality because of their short haircut. Both Parrish LeFeber’s squadron commander and supervisor notified these people’s commander about it and they were reprimanded. It helped show Parrish LeFeber that they were well respected by their unit and protected even with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
In 2020, the idea of “coming out” seems like a historical artifact for Parrish LeFeber. While Parrish LeFeber assumes negative experiences are still happening, they say they think they are shrinking with the increase in acceptance. Today Parrish LeFeber works at Alaska VA Healthcare as a psychologist and identifies their sexual identity as queer. Queer was once used as a derogatory word but has been taken back to be used as a positive identifier.
Though Parrish LeFeber is hopeful about the future, there are still things concerning for LGBT Veterans at health care facilities.
One of those things are health care forms. Parrish LeFeber says from past research they have done and their personal experiences, they have found LGBT Veterans are negatively affected by forms that only provide male or female sex terms or identify their spouses as the opposite sex.
“When you think of them as little, they’re actually big when you are asked, ‘Are you male or are you female’,” says Parrish LeFeber, “We have done a lot in the healthcare system to foster inclusivity, we have more to do.”
Alaska VA Healthcare has a Gender Identity support group and an LGBTQIA+ Wellness group for LGBT Veterans looking for community support. For information on these groups and LGBT services, you can contact the LGBT Veteran Care Coordinator at 907-257-4888 or Jessie.Kullberg@va.gov. You can also contact Laura Kabatt-Kennedy LCSW at 907-375-2187.
Check out Alaska VA Healthcare’s health information for LGBT Veterans and other program information at https://www.alaska.va.gov/ALASKA/services/lgbt/index.asp.