RICHMOND, Va. –
For Sgt. Phillicia Lewis and Spc. Dejia Joyner, both serving in the Virginia Army National Guard, LGBTQ+ Pride Month is all about their community. Each year, they said, that community grows and with it, acceptance and inclusion.
“It’s just amazing, you didn’t see that in the past, you didn’t see people supporting it in the past,” Joyner said. “We came a long way from there to here and it’s good to celebrate that.”
The connection between Lewis and Joyner first sparked at a Black History Month event. After exchanging glances, Joyner asked Lewis if she had boyfriend. Lewis told her no, she didn’t. Then, Joyner asked if she had a girlfriend. She said didn’t have one of those either.
“She got my number and from there it bloomed,” Lewis said.
The two have been a couple now for more than three years and live together in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Joyner works full-time at Defense Supply Center- Richmond for the G1, while Lewis works as the full-time S1 noncommissioned officer for the Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
In discovering their own unique identities, the LGBTQ+ community was something they both relied on, especially Lewis, who today identifies as a pansexual.
“Pansexual to me means, I don’t go off of someone’s identity, what they identify themselves as, I just go off of how I feel about that person,” Lewis said. When she was younger, she called herself a bisexual, but that tag didn’t really fit either. She knew she wasn’t straight, but she wasn’t a lesbian either, and “bisexual” was the most apt term she had to describe herself at the time. At 18, she discovered an incredibly welcoming LGBTQ+ community online.
“It’s just like a whole other world of gay people and there’s group chats of gay people communicating with gay people,” Lewis said. There, people often asked how she identified. “When I described it, how I just go off the connection, they were like, ‘oh, so you’re pansexual,’ and I was like, ‘ok, that - that’s what I am.’”
At one point, Joyner, too, identified as a bisexual, but, she said, that was short-lived and mostly a self-preservation technique to keep the “heat” off her. Growing up, she always knew she liked girls and it wasn’t much of a surprise to her family.
“My mom already knew. My mom looked at me one day and was like, ‘Do you like girls?’ And I was like, ‘yeah,’ and that was that,” Joyner said. She had immediate support from her mom.
Lewis, on the other hand, didn’t have the same level of support, at least not at first. She didn’t make a big deal of coming out either, she just brought a girlfriend home one day. At first, her mom struggled with it.
“No matter what my sexuality is, my mom notices that I’m still a great Soldier, I’m still a great person, I can still do all these things,” Lewis said. “I’m very successful and she’s cool with it now. She loves Dejia.”
Three years into their relationship, the two said their families both refer to the other as their “daughter-in-law.” They aren’t engaged quite yet, but they do know they want to expand their family in the coming years. As they started to investigate the process of having children as a same-sex couple, they found there weren’t a ton of donors for non-white parents.
“It’s hard to find African American donors,” Lewis said.
With Joyner’s support, Lewis has a plan to fix that. She’s developing an app to help prospective parents identify viable donors and surrogates with inclusivity and education at the forefront of the effort.
“I noticed a lot of donors just don’t know about the process,” Lewis said. Education, she said, is important and the app will have resources available to help prospective donors learn more about the process. She especially wants to target underrepresented communities and increase donor options in not just the Black community, but across all communities. The goal is to release the app next year, hopefully in June as a nod to LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
This year, work requirements are keeping Lewis and Joyner from attending any in-person Pride events, but they’ve both attended events in years past. Lewis once spent the evenings of her annual training working on a rainbow bralette to wear at Chicago’s Pride events.
“I would go to work and come back to the barracks and be hot gluing,” she said. She still has the bralette, and Joyner says it’s impressive enough that they should considering framing it.
For people unfamiliar with the LGBTQ+ community, or for those new to the community, Lewis and Joyner suggested that they simply ask questions.
“If you are just figuring out things, it’s ok to question yourself, it’s ok to ask questions to other people,” Lewis said. She described herself as an open book. “I like when people ask questions. I know a lot about my community, and I take a lot of pride in that knowing.”