FORT MCCOY

Fort McCoy LGBT Pride Month speaker: Live authentically

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Story by Aimee Malone on 07/09/2019
Fort McCoy celebrated LGBT Pride Month with a luncheon and presentation June 27 at McCoy's Community Center.

Guest speaker Sandy Eichel, a professional speaker, diversity and inclusion consultant, and wealth-management adviser, spoke to Fort McCoy community members about the importance of inclusion and living authentically. While it's important to celebrate LGBT community members and the battles that have been won, it's also important to remember that

Only 23 states have laws protecting members of the LGBT community from being fired from their jobs or evicted from their apartments, Eichel said. More transgender people are murdered in hate crimes than any other minority group in the United States.

"The LGBT community has suffered," Eichel said. "But we all suffer because we live in a world where we're not allowed to be who we truly are. We spend most of our lives not even realizing how much we have to assimilate and push ourselves into a mold to be successful."

Eichel shared the story of her own transition out of the mold she'd pushed herself into. For years, she said, she did what she was supposed to do to make others happy. She studied opera. She married a pastor. She threw parties for children who attended the church. On the outside, she seemed to have a perfect life, but secretly, she was miserable.

"For years, I was trapped in a life that wasn't mine," Eichel said.

She lived that life for years before she decided to go to therapy to try to discover just why she wasn't happy. She realized she was a lesbian, and her husband eventually told her that he identified as a woman. Eichel said she thought she'd found the solution to the problems in their marriage. But as they left behind all the circles they'd been living in and started anew, she began to realize that her partner was part of the reason she'd been living a lie in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Sitting in her hotel room alone after her divorce, Eichel said she realized she didn't even know what she really liked to wear or her favorite food or color.

"That was the start of my life that was authentic and happy," she said. "Being authentic and living our authentic lives is not just the key for happiness. It's the key to having an inclusive culture so everyone can be their best selves and bring their best selves to work.

"Researchers at the University of Georgia have studied authenticity and they found that people who feel like they can live authentically are more likely to respond to difficulties with effective coping strategies without resorting to drugs, alcohol, or self-destructive habits. People who say they can't live authentically are more likely to be defensive, suspicious, confused, and easily overwhelmed."

It's important to remember that diversity and inclusion are not the same thing, Eichel said.

"Diversity is being asked to the party," she said. "Inclusion is being asked to dance and feeling safe to dance any way you want."

Inclusion is even more important in a setting like the military, she said.

"People's lives depend on you. Our country depends on you. A culture where people can bring their very best to work is even more important in a military setting than a civilian setting," Eichel said.

During LGBT Pride Month, the Army celebrates the accomplishments of LGBT Soldiers, civilians, veterans, and family members. June was chosen for LGBT Pride Month to commemorate the anniversary of the June 28, 1969, Stonewall riots in New York City. This historic demonstration initiated the modern gay-rights movement in the United States.

The observance was organized by the Equal Opportunity office.

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