TAMPA – Ashley Brundage, president of the Tampa Bay Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and one of this year’s scheduled Grand Marshals of the upcoming 2015 St. Pete Pride Promenade is slated to become the first known transgender person to speak at McDill Air Force Base on Monday, June 15. The luncheon speaking engagement is the first pride event ever held at the military installation.
The event is the result of a remarkable memo sent to all base commanders under Department of Defense stationary naming June as Pride month in the U.S. Armed Forces. The memo states in part: “The Department of Defense (DoD) joins the Nation in celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month observed during June. During this time the Department recognizes lesbian, gay and bisexual service members and lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender civilians for their dedicated service to both the DoD mission and to our nation. During Pride Month we celebrate those in the LGBT community who continue to transform the lasting ideals of dignity and worth. Throughout the month, let’s rededicate ourselves to equality, dignity and respect for all, and celebrate the diversity of the DoD workplace.”
“Do you notice the difference they make when it comes to transgender people only serving in a civilian role?” asks Brundage. “That’s because the military is still operating under pre-1995 guidelines for transgender people to serve. Those guidelines still characterize being transgender as being a mental illness so that precludes us from serving openly in a military capacity. With the ability of openly gay people to serve, we’ve come a long way for certain, but obviously we have a way to go too. With that it’s even more amazing though that they chose a transgender woman to give this first ever Pride address at McDill. I’m honored to be part of this,” she said.
Brundage says she plans to divide her speech into three parts.
“I’m a Tampa Bay native and the first part of my speech will be giving a little bit of my history growing up here, which included going to air shows at McDill,” said Brundage. “Both my father and my grandfather were in the military so my family has history there too.”
“The second part of my speech is about my personal transformation from a man to a woman and what that’s meant to me,” said Brundage. “Education is so important for people who don’t really understand the process. A personal story like mine can help them better see what the process has been and how its changed my life for the better.”
“Finally I hope to give a little bit of information about where we stand as an LGBT community here in Tampa Bay,” said Brundage. “With the coming of marriage equality to Florida, we’ve come a long way and there’s been a huge amount of progress in the military, but there’s still much to do both inside and outside the military.
The event has some personal meaning to Brundage too. Plans call for her mother, her sister-in-law and her father-in-law to be in the audience. Brundage says it will be the first time that her mother has heard her speak as a woman. She says her family has been incredibly supportive. In fact she is still married to the woman she married as a man and the two of them have two supportive children, ages 9 and 7. The two have been married for 13 years.
“I know some of the people who were on the committee putting together a first ever Pride event for McDill,” said Brundage. “I’m sure my position with the Chamber and being name a Grand Marshal for Pride had something to do with them inviting me, but having a personal relationship with some of the organizers was a factor as well. I’m just delighted they have given me this opportunity to represent our community and to do a little education along the way as well.”
Brundage is a universal banker for PNC Bank. She was open with that organization about her transitioning during her hiring interview and she says the bank didn’t flinch at all. “They said we value diversity and we really want you to be part of our team,” said Brundage. “My first full day of functioning in the outside world as a woman was my first day at PNC. Needless to say, that was a big day.”
Brundage says there are estimates that as many as 5,000 members of the United States Armed Forces identify as transgender, but until the military revises its current rules they need to stay closeted to serve.