Pride and perseverance: A military family's story

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It’s 2014 and Staff Sgt. Kasey Bumgardner is sitting alone in a terminal at a transient base in Afghanistan waiting for a flight to see Sebastian, her baby boy, born just a few months earlier.

The terminal is crowded, and she is faced with the choice to delay another 28 days or wait around the clock for an open spot on a flight home. Sleeping on the floor of a terminal, checking and rechecking flights, living off the excitement to finally meet Sebastian; this was an easy choice for Kasey.

If only getting to that point in Kasey’s life was as simple. Just ask her wife.
Now Master Sgt. Kasey Bumgardner-Gaines, diagnostics and therapeutics flight chief assigned to the 6th Medical Support Squadron, and her wife Staff Sgt. Ashley Bumgardner-Gaines, assigned to the 6th Comptroller Squadron, share their story. As the team works through being a dual-military family and navigating policy to be able to get married and have their son, Sebastian.

Their story starts prior to the repeal of the U.S. Military Policy called, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) which prohibited non-heterosexual members from disclosing their sexual orientation and included a prohibition on same-sex marriages. While some thought it was a reasonable way to give members of the LGBTQ+ community an opportunity to serve in the military, others opposed it because LGBTQ+ members could only do so if they kept their sexual orientation silent and invisible. Under the policy, over 10,000 service members were discharged.

Kasey was almost one of them.

“I was being investigated at the time due to my sexual orientation,” said Kasey. “My family and friends were being questioned. Then one day it just stopped, and I never heard anything about it again.”

The reason it stopped was the repeal of DADT in September of 2011. This allowed members of the LGBTQ+ community to serve freely without reprimand due to their orientation. It opened the doors for these service members to marry, start families, receive benefits and to be authentic and open coworkers, wingmen and battle buddies.

So, as DADT ended, Kasey’s relationship with Ashley began.
Kasey didn’t have to make a choice between her service to her country and her love for Ashley. As their relationship flourished, they could share their excitement with friends, families and coworkers.

Soon, Ashley and Kasey would be married and began looking for donor options to start a family of their own and, after a few months, a potential donor agreed.

“Everything happened very quickly,” said Ashley. “We inseminated in October, I found out I was pregnant in November.”

But, like many military families, timing isn’t perfect, and it was shortly after their marriage when Kasey was called to deploy. With Ashley pregnant, Kasey’s anxiety was at an all-time high, but throughout her deployment, her team never stopped supporting her.

Had DADT been the policy, Kasey wouldn’t have had the support. Instead, as she was serving her country in a foreign land, her service commitment would not interfere with her ability to provide for her growing family.

“My coworkers were very supportive. They even threw me a baby shower in Afghanistan,” said Kasey. “My leadership would check in with me because they knew I had a baby on the way.”

“Initially, when asked when the baby was due, people would be very confused just from what they heard passing through,” said Kasey. “‘How was a female member pregnant and deployed?’, they would wonder, but that’s understandable. When Sebastian was born in June, they set me up in a private room for two days with Skype so I could be there as much as possible.”

And that’s how Kasey ended up on that floor of the transient terminal, waiting to find a spot on a flight home to meet her son.

Through their journey of being a dual military same-sex couple, Kasey and Ashley feel that there are few, if any, negatives in their careers due to being in a same-sex marriage.

“I think it is mostly awkwardness at the beginning. People assume my spouse is a male and I just correct them, but after the initial understanding, everyone goes about normally,” said Kasey.

Nearly 13 years after the repeal of DADT, June serves as the month to celebrate the members of the LGTBQ+ community, like the Bumgardner-Gaines family, and all allies who have served proudly.

“The Air Force is heading in the right direction as far as inclusivity and diversity,” said Ashley. “Pride Month may be 30 days, but finding ways to include people who may feel marginalized, invisible, or isolated is a year-round challenge.”