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The Love Issue

Walking the Line: Brig. Gen. Tammy S. Smith & Tracey Hepner


Forced to live in secret for decades, Tammy Smith (the first openly gay U.S. general) and Tracey Hepner (cofounder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition) are happy to share their bond at last.

Photography by Melissa Golden

Tracey: We got married after the repeal. We considered ourselves perpetually engaged because an attempt to marry would've resulted in an automatic discharge for Tammy. The day of Tammy's promotion to general, there were a lot of things swirling around. The story broke right before the promotion, but there was still a wonderful sense of calm and peace when all of the cameras were going off and I got to step up on the stage with Tammy. We're strong for each other. I was so honored and privileged and proud to be able to stand up there and put that star on her.

I had to be in the closet at work, too, because being out would shine a light on Tammy. One of the most important lessons we've learned is how liberating it is to be our authentic selves. We're married, and wherever we go in a military setting, Tammy introduces me as her wife. There is no question of our level of commitment to one another. We've had overwhelming support, letters from servicemembers from World War II and Vietnam. The outpouring of appreciation that someone at her level stepped up -- and stepped out -- has been incredible.

Tammy: We had been following the progress of the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" closely, so we knew when it had been voted on, September 20, 2011. I was stationed in Afghanistan and woke up that morning and knew the day was going to be different. I remember walking down the street to the dining facility on the base and just trying to catch somebody's eye, trying to get a little acknowledgement, and there was nothing. It was just another day, which was kind of the beauty of it. It was like everything had changed for us, but nothing had changed for the military. At the end of that day, I took a flag and flew it to mark a special time in my life. That flag was at our wedding.

For me it's really been transitional, to go from being 100% in the closet to being globally gay. Tracey has taught me how to love and brought into my life a complete awakening. What she continually reminds me is to be proud of who I am. She has been so wonderful in helping me cut loose the shackles of those 26 years in the military, of having to hide a part of myself. I don't live a double life anymore.

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