‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ era veteran wants to people to know that life does get better

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Christian Eiden CSW
he/him/his
contact@queerkentucky.com

Jeleena Hall (Ja-lee-na) took to the skies to make history and become part of the first all women Honor Flight in Kentucky, back in June. An all-expense paid one day trip to D.C. was provided to the female veterans to see memorials and visit museums that honored the women who’ve served. She signed up because she wanted to be of service and help escort senior veterans around D.C. At the end she was left with an amazing experience and a feeling that she mattered to her country. 

When Jeleena returned home after an 18 month deployment to both Kuwait and Iraq, she didn’t have anyone with balloons to congratulate her on her return home. This was not the case the day her Honor Flight arrived back home at the Lexington airport. She was touched by the outpouring of support they received when they landed. News channels were there and the airport was full with a crowd to welcome them back. 

This was important to her because “being a black queer women in Kentucky hasn’t been easy,” she said. Not only that but she served during an era, where Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was still active. She didn’t receive a great deal of push back during that time, but she also didn’t push them. She knew if they didn’t ask she wouldn’t tell. She was still trying to discover who she was, as she joined the army at 17. 

Before joining the army, she grew up in Hardin County, where she called herself a tom boy, and regularly attended church. Her dad moved to Germany to be with her half-sister and it was just herself and her mother, who worked multiple jobs. Often she was alone growing up and felt raised by the television. Because of this she became very active in school. She was on the football team, basketball team, ran track and eventually became the school mascot. It was during her adolescent years, that she was discovering that she also felt an attraction to women. 

It was hard for her to embrace or even discover who she was. Church instilled in her that you just don’t talk about those things. This was compounded by the militaries Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Jeleena stated it was hard growing up because you didn’t see anyone like you in media or in real life most times. She often ponders how her life may have been if she had received non-judgmental support about discovering who she is. This is why she volunteers to help youth in the same community she grew up in. She said there is a quote she loves from Fredrick Douglas that goes “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” She wants to be that positive influence in a young kids life that she wishes she would have had. 

She wants people to know that things do get better; you will be ok and don’t consume yourself with people that may not like you. Jeleenas’ story is one that we can all relate to and a story of triumph, a story of someone who worked and lifted herself up. She has obtained two degrees, one in social work and one in organizational leadership and development, and is now using that to lift others up. She is still working on herself and discovering who she is, but maybe that is because as queer people, some of us were and are, cheated of our childhoods/adolescence. Jeleena remembers a quote from her time in the army that has stuck with her. It is, “be good or be good at it.” She is doing her best and is being the good in her community. 

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