This Pride Month, alumna Maj. Kiersten Thompson celebrates her ability to serve openly
The views expressed in this story belong to Major Kiersten Thompson and are not the opinions of the Air Force or Department of Defense.
Maj. Kiersten “Clicks” Thompson (B.E.S.S. ‘10) grew up learning about the military from her veteran grandfathers and her history buff dad, but it wasn’t until 2005 when she was recruited to play volleyball at the United States Air Force Academy that she considered serving in the military.
After attending the Air Force Academy for a brief time, she decided it was not the right fit for her and returned home to Houston to attend Galveston College. Soon, Thompson began to feel called back to the Air Force and after researching ROTC programs in Texas she enrolled at Texas State University and became a cadet with Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Detachment 840.
As a lesbian, Thompson struggled with having to keep a part of her identity a secret when she transitioned out of civilian life under Defense Directive 1304.26, commonly known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which prevented service members from being openly queer without the threat of being discharged.
While those around her shared stories about their personal lives and weekend plans, she remained silent for fear of repercussions. Eventually, she found supportive friends at Texas State whom she was able to be open with and remains close with them today.
Thompson graduated from Texas State on Dec. 18, 2010, the same day the Senate passed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010, which outlined the process for ending the discriminatory policy and allowing the LGBTQ+ community to serve openly. She remembers that day clearly – she graduated in uniform and walked to the LBJ Student Center to sign her commissioning documents. As she was signing paperwork that stated she was not a homosexual, she received an email with the news of the act passing and felt a weight lifted off her shoulders.
She came out on Sept. 20, 2011, when the policy was officially repealed. “It was huge,” she says, “words can’t even describe it.” She finally felt that she could share everything about herself with the people she served alongside. The transition wasn’t easy, but she has become an outspoken activist for LGBTQ+ people in the military. “I’ve found my voice and when people say rude or ignorant things, I correct them on the spot,” she says.
This Pride Month, Thompson is celebrating her ability to serve her country proudly and openly. Knowing that representation is incredibly important, she organized a 5K pride run, LGBTQ+ panel, and open discussion happy hour for the more than 500 students she works with as an instructor combat systems officer at the 479th Flying Training Group. "If a young Airman or high school student can see me as a successful military officer being both a female and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community,” she says, “they know that they have the same opportunities.”
When Thompson was a cadet with Detachment 840, she set up a potluck for the women in the detachment to ask questions of their female instructors that they may not have felt comfortable asking their male instructors. She has continued this practice at every base she has gone to since. As one of only 300 women serving as combat systems officers, she is motivated to break barriers, make improvements, and grow the next generation of leaders.
Thompson remains a proud Bobcat. “I grew up at Texas State. It’s where my career began,” she reflects. She was excited to see Detachment 840 double its enrollment since her time as a cadet and recently returned to campus to speak at a career day. She is especially grateful for mentors such as Dr. Karen Meaney, chair and professor in the Health & Human Performance Department, and Maj. Jim Cohn, USAF, retired, former assistant professor in Aerospace Studies/AFROTC, who helped her to see her full potential both as a student and as an aviator. “Sometimes,” she says, “you just need to be told you can do something.”