In celebration of Pride month, we spotlight Technical Sergeant Nathaniel Kjos, our Air Force Operations non-commissioned officer who exemplifies the spirit of service and the vibrant diversity within the LGBTQIA+ community. Nathan’s military journey has paralleled his unwavering commitment to defend the values of equality and inclusion. Having recently arrived in Singapore in 2021, Nate shares his experiences of finding acceptance and camaraderie within the USAF, the (local) LGBT community, all while embracing Singapore’s multi-ethnic character.
Nathan’s path to the military was paved by a deep sense of duty and the inspiring examples set by his parents, who also served in the armed forces. In 2013, nearly two years after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, amidst shifting cultural paradigms and policy changes towards equality and inclusivity.
“Being in [the U.S. Air Force] hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies. From being stigmatized during numerous medical screenings and unable to donate blood during blood bank shortages, to more scrutiny for professional opportunities hinged on to whom I was married, and to even severe targeted aggression based on my orientation.“
Despite having to overcome the legacy of a generation of DADT and negative experiences, there have been greater positives and an overwhelming sense of support that make it more than worthwhile. Nathan found the U.S. military and LGBT+ community both shared the concept of “chosen family” (or a non-biological support system).
“Both chosen families have helped shaped me to the person I am today, and I want to do what’s within my control to leave these places better than I found it. There’s been positive changes since joining — I’m hoping that if/when I am placed in those influential positions, I can bring my own experiences to the table, continue the momentum and newer perspectives, and advocate for and amplify the voices of communities in those spaces that aren’t normally heard.“
Through this idea, he found acceptance and an overall welcoming environment, allowing him both to live authentically and to thrive, personally and professionally. Nathan’s nearly decade-long military career has taken him across the globe from California and Florida to Japan and Sudan.
Embracing the opportunity to immerse himself in a new culture, he found new friendships in the inclusivity of the local LGBTQIA+ community. Despite being in a foreign land, he was met with open arms and a sense of belonging, creating deep connections with fellow community members who shared similar experiences and aspirations.
“Living overseas, as a military member and member of the queer community, it can be isolating trying to navigate a foreign place by yourself. Fortunately, I am able to lean into these parts of my identity, to immediately create a sense of familiarity meanwhile unintentionally bridging cultures otherwise that normally aren’t surface-level connected.”
Nate’s experience in Singapore reaffirmed his belief in the power of inclusivity and acceptance. He found a sense of community and belonging within the local LGBTQIA+ network, which provided him with a support system and an opportunity to forge meaningful connections. Nate believes the openness and warmth displayed by the community in Singapore reflects the country’s progress in embracing diversity.
Beyond his military duties, Nate has eagerly embraced Singapore’s diverse culinary scene. Among the many delicacies he has encountered, his favorites include char kway teow, bean curd, and ever-polarizing durian. Whether it’s the silky smoothness of tau huay or pungent yet creamy durian, Nate finds comfort and joy in the tantalizing flavors across Singapore’s culinary rainbow. Exploring the local food markets and hawker centers has become a cherished pastime, allowing him to connect with Singaporean culture through the love of food.
Nate’s journey from Missouri to Singapore exemplifies the power of acceptance and inclusivity. As we celebrate #Pride2023, his story reminds us of the progress made in embracing diversity within the U.S. military and the global LGBTQIA+ community.