Kevin Claiborne has been an army officer for the U.S army for over 11years. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Virginia State University, an MBA from Prairie View A&M University, and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Kevin claiborne’s interview
Thank you so much for your time, Kevin. So, why did you join the army?
I have members in my family that were serving. And, it was almost like a rite of passage to transition into manhood, to be able to be financially stable and to take care of yourself. Being in the army, you have two different options: You can be enlisted or commissioned as an officer. I luckily had family members who were officers, who showed me that this is not necessarily a profitable way of life, but a way that you can take care of yourself. So, I followed in my great uncle’s footsteps and commissioned. There are five officers in my family, and a few coming up in the ranks behind me as cadets that are working on their commission as well. So, it’s almost like a family tradition.
Interesting. So, what was lifelike for a queer person in the army back in the day?
I’ve only been in the Army going on 12 years now and I came in right on the cusp of the change. However, my uncle, whose footsteps I followed, came to my graduation for training. And when we had our private conversation, he sat me down and said, “I don’t want your personal life to impede on your professional life.” And what he was trying to tell me in a loving way was: Be as conservative as possible because you don’t want people to mistreat you. The army is a conservative entity, so it’s best that you carry yourself a certain way. And if you don’t, you’re deemed to be not professional.
And as an officer, your professionalism is one that goes before you first and you don’t want anything to impede that. I am an infantry officer, so it was very hands-on, and you had to be very tough. And I’m not saying I wasn’t raised to be tough, but I’m just a meek individual. So, I had to mentally toughen up to compete with my peers because the Army is about competing professionally. And if you can’t drink the Kool-Aid, as some of my peers have said, you’re not going to make it very far. So, I had to get to a place where I was very reserved at work. I’m a very bubbly person, but at work, I had to be very reserved so that I wasn’t deemed to be soft or deemed to be stepped over.
How is it now?
Things are a lot better. We now have orientation included in the equal opportunity protections. So, if there is ever an issue professionally, there are ways for you to attempt to remedy it. I will also say that,
“Even though there are protections in our policies, things also changed as the president or department of defense leadership changes.”
I remember having a service member who was transitioning (transgender), and because we had a different president, we were concerned that he would lose his medical benefits potentially halfway through the process. We wanted to make sure we were doing our best to protect our service members, not only just ourselves. I can take care of myself, but I have enlisted service members that I don’t want anyone to mistreat them because of their lifestyle. We have seen a lot of ambiguity as it relates to transgender service members and as policy changes with leadership at certain levels.
What does Memorial Day mean to you as a black LGBTQ person in the military?
So, for Memorial Day, I always think back to my grandfather who served. He was a master sergeant. And it makes me think how during his time, I may not have been able to serve, because of who I am. I also think about his life while being thankful for the sacrifices he made as a Purple Heart recipient. And, it makes me reflect back on the experiences he may have not been able to have. Now, that I am serving under my capacity and with my orientation, I’m just thankful I’ve been able to hopefully impact positivity on those I come across.
“Memorial Day makes me think of those people who have served in the military as LGBT prior to policy changes, and how they were silenced.”
For decades, people served, and they were not able to tell their colleagues how their weekend was with their loved ones. They weren’t able to share and be open. Some of these people lived and died not being able to be fully seen and appreciated for who they were. I have a mentor, who is still living, who served, and he did not have the opportunity that I have. And they’re so many people that were not given the opportunity to just be seen. So, it makes me think of those families who’ve been silenced and sometimes never remembered. But of course, Memorial Day is for those who have passed away.
Wow. Thank you so much. This was my last question, and it was great speaking to you.