Carlton: Yes, gay pride, even at MacDill Air Force Base

Published May 20 2015
Updated May 21 2015

MacDill Air Force Base is getting into the swing of things with its first big gay pride event.

No, really.

June is Pride Month, a celebration of our gay, lesbian and transgender communities, set on the anniversary month of New York's Stonewall riots, an important moment in the fight for gay rights.

Minds do open. The world does evolve. And shut my mouth, here's Tampa's own MacDill Air Force Base front and center and ready for pride with an LGBT luncheon on the base June 15 — featuring as the keynote speaker banker Ashley Brundage, who is transgender.

"I'm really honored they asked me," says Brundage, 34. "That means a lot."

I'll say.

Yes, we are past don't-ask-don't-tell, the hard-fought battle for gays in the service. Still, you might not expect a full embrace from the military base in our midst, MacDill, notably a major point of pride, itself, in these parts.

We do have our history, after all. Ours is a community where, not so long ago, politicians snubbed their city's own Pride celebration. We are a place where elected officials once banned governmental recognition of gay pride, period.

Fast forward, and openly gay leaders are in the mix on both sides of the bay. Mayors there support their LGBT citizenry.

MacDill's Pride Month Lunch­eon "is the first year we have done this event," confirmed MacDill spokesman Terry Montrose.

Invitations have gone out, and anyone with access to the base can attend. And generally at luncheons, someone from base brass does the introducing.

Brundage, the keynote speaker, is a business and relationship banker for PNC Bank. She's also president of the Tampa Bay Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, on the advisory board of the Ybor Youth Clinic, and is one of the community grand marshals in the upcoming St. Pete Pride parade.

At next month's luncheon, she will speak a bit about being a boy growing up in Tampa, where like most kids she watched jets fly overhead at MacDill's air shows. She will talk about her transition a few years ago with the support of her wife, Whitney. She will talk about where the LGBT community stands now, and where they're going.

What will it be like, giving that talk with a military base as your backdrop?

"For me, it's just part of day-to-day operations. I live and work in an environment where you're not necessarily expecting to see somebody who's transgender," she says. "Every day, I'm educating people."

And she's okay with that.

"People want to understand," Brundage said.

We are, after all, a world watching Bruce Jenner.

This interesting program note at MacDill is just the kind of nuance some people notice when they are looking to travel. It's the sort of detail that could matter to businesses looking to land somewhere that would welcome all of their employees, not just some of them.

There's the kind of change you think will never get here even though you know it is inevitable. And then it does, in corners you least expect.

Oh, and did I mention the 5K Rainbow Run at MacDill on May 29?

Contact Sue Carlton at carlton@tampabay.com.

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