This story was created with the support and guidance of VetVoice.
For Jen and Jennifer Metcalf, the past decade has been characterized by alternating periods of protection and insecurity, with multiple moves and career changes impacting how safe and secure they have both felt from anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
The women met each other back in 2005 while they were stationed in Norfolk, Virginia with the United States Navy. Jennifer was stationed on a U.S. Aircraft Carrier as an active duty member of the Navy, while Jen served in the military police for the Navy.
“We met, we hit it off, and it got to the point where our relationship was really progressing and we had to make a choice,” Jennifer said. “Things had gotten serious, and we had bought a house, and we realized we couldn’t stay in the military.”
Part of the reason was that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – the discriminatory policy that barred open service for gay, lesbian, and bisexual servicemembers – haunted the couple like a specter, a dark cloud that threatened to upend their life at every turn. And beyond the potential ramifications of being discharged under DADT, the policy sent them a message each and every day that their relationship and their individual dignity were not respected.
The women left the Navy, following six years of service for Jen and four years of service for Jennifer, and moved down to Florida. Jennifer got a degree in elementary education while Jen served in law enforcement, and while they enjoyed Florida they were also fully conscious of the reality that same-sex couples could not legally marry in the state and had no state-level protections from discrimination.
“Living in Florida felt constricting at the time,” Jennifer said, referencing how the environment and attitudes in the state still made them feel unwelcome, with their relationship unable to be recognized.
They soon moved again, prompted by their decision to marry in Massachusetts in 2009. And for a time they experienced how it felt to be afforded equal treatment under the law at last. In Massachusetts, same-sex couples could legally marry since 2004 and people have been protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation since 1989 (and from employment and housing discrimination based on gender identity since 2011). Jennifer and Jen could truly be themselves, with the same opportunity as any other resident.
“I would love to be able to go back in the classroom and start teaching. But how do I do that while having a child and being gay and not having protections in Florida?” – Jennifer Metcalf
In 2014 they welcomed their son Griffin into the world, and shortly after they moved back to Florida to be close to Jennifer’s mother. As they moved, they kept their eyes closely on litigation working through the courts, hopeful that the freedom to marry would soon come to Florida and nationwide.
“It was nerve-wracking in some ways to leave Massachusetts, this state where we felt so protected, and move back to Florida,” Jennifer said. “So seeing the freedom to marry come to Florida was just a huge sense of relief. For me, marriage equality was this feeling that my marriage is legitimate wherever we go – I can move freely and be accepted everywhere.”
“But it’s almost this fleeting feeling of relief,” she added. “Because I’m still going through a second-parent adoption and so I’m still not as protected as I could be.”
She and her wife are also not protected from discrimination in employment, housing, or public spaces – so their family remains vulnerable. Jennifer is grateful that her employer in Massachusetts allowed her to keep her job even while she’s living in Florida – but if Jennifer were to look for a teaching job, following up on her education degree, she says she’d be nervous about embarking on that job search.
“I would love to be able to go back in the classroom and start teaching,” she said. “But how do I do that while having a child and being gay and not having protections in Florida? That might influence why I’m not a teacher in Florida right now. I don’t want to go into that world. I like knowing that I won’t be fired by my Massachusetts employer because I’m gay.”
As veterans, Jennifer and Jen served to preserve and protect freedom for every American – but until they are fully protected from discrimination in every state, including where they live in Florida, their country is failing to reciprocally ensure their full freedom. It’s clear that it’s time for lawmakers in Florida and nationwide to update our non-discrimination laws to ensure that LGBTQ people are comprehensively protected from discrimination, once and for all.
“Having served in the military, I’m actually protected in most places from being fired because of my veteran status,” Jennifer said. “But not because of my sexual orientation. It often comes up that I’m a veteran, and people will say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ But sometimes, when I think about the lack of non-discrimination protections in Florida for LGBTQ people, I find myself thinking, ‘Are you actually voting to protect me and my family and our right to live?'”