U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Gilmore
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Gilmore

LGBT journey to service

by Senior Airman Matthew Gilmore
374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges, providing the fundamental right to marry to same-sex couples in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, guaranteeing not only the recognition of same-sex marriages throughout the country, but also the accompanying rights and responsibilities that were provided to marriages of opposite-sex couples.

“I will always remember that day,” said Nathan Evans, 374th Force Support Squadron Unite program community cohesion coordinator. “It was on that day I jumped in my car and drove all the way from South Carolina to be there for that ruling. It was obviously a huge deal for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and everyone wanted to be there for another moment history. It was as if the entire LGBT world was right there in D.C., an endless sea of rainbow to celebrate what was another step on our road to equality.

“That night they painted the White House rainbow with light and I just couldn’t stop crying at the sight of it. It all just felt so right. As a nation we had come so far and I was so proud of the progress we had made. My husband Shawn couldn’t be there with me because he was at U.S. Air Force Basic Military Training but it felt like he was right there with me. It was our night.”

Earlier that June, Shawn Clark, now a 374th Communications Squadron cyber operations technician out of Yokota Air Base, Japan, would swear in to begin his military career. Shawn would take the Oath of Enlistment, but like all military families, he would not be the only one to serve. Since that day both Shawn and Nathan have proven to be a model Air Force family. With each not only excelling in their fields, but more importantly so, striving to create an all-around more tight-knit and resilient force right here at Yokota.

“I wanted to serve for the longest time but it really just wasn’t an option for Nathan and me,” said Shawn. “Progress needed to be made and things needed to happen for our service to be a reality and that didn’t occur until 2013 with the overturning of The Defense of Marriage Act. That is what finally gave us the comfort of knowing my husband would receive the benefits provided to any other military spouse. It gave us the confidence to know the military would treat and take care of us just like any other family.

“It was immediately after that DOMA repeal that we had the conversation of can we really make this happen? We had our concerns of course, only a few years prior in 2011 did the Department of Defense do away with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and without being in the military, we were worried about if culture in place would truly accept us.”

Despite those initial fears lingering, the couple made the leap and the truth ended up being the farthest thing possible from the thoughts of discrimination that had kept them up at night.
“In hindsight it’s crazy that we lost any sleep being worried about it,” said Shawn. “From the moment I stepped foot at BMT I was welcomed. I was cautious and hesitant to tell people I was married to a man, but when I finally felt comfortable enough to do so, the people I told were frustrated with me because I didn’t tell them sooner. They just wanted me to be me. It’s been that level of acceptance that has welcomed not only me, but my family everywhere we have gone.”

It has been that acceptance that has allowed both Shawn and Nathan to be exactly who they are, themselves. At work Shawn has excelled in every facet, leading him to be a 374th Airlift Wing Airman of the Quarter and a John L. Levitow Award recipient while also acting as the 374th CS Booster Club president, and volunteering countless hours to organizations throughout his career like Airmen Against Drunk Driving, the United Service Organizations, and The American Red Cross, all while still finding time to act as a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response volunteer victim advocate.

Nathan’s impact is equally impressive in his time here at Yokota. As the Unite program community cohesion coordinator he plans and organizes morale events for just about every squadron on base, ensuring Airmen and their families have things in place to stay resilient and ready to fulfill the mission. Prior to that, Nathan was also the USO Yokota field program manager. In that role he did even more of the same. Planning and organizing weekly events across the base, guaranteeing families and single Airmen a place to go, a place to belong. On top of all of that, Nathan has also found time to be a part of Yokota’s community action team.

“From the moment we joined and became a military family, helping other families became my passion,” said Nathan. “It can be a difficult life for not only Airmen, but also their families and I wanted to do anything I could to make that life an easier one. I wanted everyone to feel welcome. Especially coming here, far from the comforts of home, I wanted to make this place feel like a home away from home.

“For the single Airmen that came into the USO, I strived to create events that offered them the chance to make new friends. If only one person showed up, I would make it a point to talk to them myself the entire time because when you are this far from home, having that friend can make all the difference in someone’s life. As long as I’m able to affect one person’s life in a positive way with my events, they are a success in my book.”

While they each work to help support others, it is their support for one another that has really allowed Shawn and Nathan to contribute more than they ever could have hoped to as individuals.
“My favorite thing about Shawn is I can always rely on him to be right there with me,” said Nathan. “We really are each other’s biggest cheerleader. The amount of times I’ve told Shawn we are picking up some family new to Yokota to get dinner with them or take them to the commissary is incredibly high and yet he has never complained. We just understand what is important to each other and make sure to go out of our way to be there for one another. We don’t need to know the ins and outs of each other’s work, but you’ll be sure to see us cheering each other on at every opportunity we get.”

Never one without the other, as a family they have made it a point to have a positive impact on Yokota. Whether for an Airman, a family, a squadron or for the entire Wing, they have each gone above and beyond for their causes of choice. Putting in the time to make this home a better place. The sad reality of it is, just a few years ago this family would not have been allowed to be a military family and Yokota wouldn’t be the same without their contributions.

“It took a lot for our family to even get the chance to serve,” said Shawn. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011, DOMA in 2013, and finally Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. So much has happened and it really is recent history. The LGBT community had to fight for so long and that fight is what has allowed my husband and me to be a part of the Air Force family. We take great pride in that journey just like we take pride in the work we each do here. Joining the Air Force was the best thing that could have happened for us. The Air Force is our home now, this is where we belong, and we are going to keep doing everything we can to make that home a better place.”

Photo Caption:
Senior Airman Shawn Clark, 374th Communications Squadron cyber operations technician, is presented the Airman level 2nd Quarter 2018 award by Col. Otis C. Jones, 374th Airlift Wing commander, at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Aug. 2, 2018. In addition to his Quarterly award, Clark has also been awarded the John L. Levitow Award for his work in Airman Leadership School and has been incredibly active in the community, volunteering his time to a variety of causes while also finding the time to to be a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response volunteer victim advocate.

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