By Petty Officer 1st Class Cynthia Oldham
ASTORIA, Ore. — The U.S. Coast Guard is replete with LGBTQ+ personnel who contribute to mission success in extraordinary ways.
Lt. Amanda Thrasher is one of them.
A Coast Guard helicopter pilot serving in the mountainous coastal terrain of the Pacific Northwest, Thrasher strives day-to-day to infuse positive impact on personnel who serve in the country’s premier life-saving service.
While dutiful LGBTQ+ military service members have historically experienced exclusion, even by their own allies, the Coast Guard is committed to halting myopic behavior and dismantling ingrained bias to continue building a stronger, unified military force.
To make inclusion an action, Thrasher is forthright about being queer because she believes it’s crucial her shipmates be exposed to positive, confident displays of pride.
With courage and honesty, Thrasher’s voice is helping inspire a culture of inclusion that promotes more diverse, collaborative work environments.
Although there are times she must will herself into doing what she knows is right, Thrasher recognizes the value of representation.
“It’s a deliberate choice each time I tell people I am married to a woman,” said Thrasher. “It can be hard, uncomfortable or inconvenient for me to be out. But, to express fear and hide who I am would be a disservice to people who served and suffered before me. Not having pride in who I am would hinder the charge to defeat a legacy of shame historically inflicted on the LGBTQ+ community.”
To Thrasher, pride means not living with shame or fear.
“The crux of pride is not just ‘we exist,’ but it's that we exist and we're not going to be mistreated anymore,” said Thrasher. “I value the world we share. And I expect you to value me.”
No stranger to challenge or the value of hard work, Thrasher didn’t fly for the first time until she was an adult, and didn’t grow up envisioning herself a pilot.
After enlisting into the Coast Guard in 2012, and serving for a short time as a non-rate at Coast Guard Sector Delaware Bay in Philadelphia, Thrasher became a boatswain’s mate and saw a future at sea.
Motivated by personal experiences she endured as a junior enlisted member, Thrasher quickly knew she wanted to gain a leadership position to have a greater positive impact on the organization’s path to diversification.
Thrasher’s perseverance earned her a commission and soon later, in 2018, she graduated from flight school.
“I knew going through officer candidate school was the best way for me to become the leader I want to be,” she said. “I originally planned to serve aboard cutters but feared eventually finding myself detached from operational service members. I saw a better long-term career for myself in aviation working side-by-side with rescue crews and more junior members.”
Now, Thrasher does just that - flying above the bustling, rugged shores and treacherous waters of the PNW.
Outside the cockpit, her mission focus shifts from search and rescue to the well-being of her shipmates.
A conduit for support, Thrasher has critical advice for service members still working to discover or reveal a personal identification they feel comfortable with.
“There are still a lot of places where it’s not safe to fully be yourself,” Thrasher said. “But if it’s safe, and that’s the caveat - if you feel safe - be yourself as much as you can be. There will be people who treat you as less than because you're different than they are – but it says more about who they are than about who you are. Find your people.”
Thrasher said there are LGBTQ+ communities in the smallest towns and the biggest cities across the country and a lot of genuine allies serving across all Coast Guard ranks.
Thrasher said she is proud to be a Coast Guard pilot and looking forward to seeing the ways a widening umbrella of inclusion, especially with efforts to include transgender service members, impacts future Coast Guard policies.
Despite her lofty professional successes, Thrasher added there is nothing in the world she is prouder of than her relationship with her wife.
Whether operating at 10,000 feet or with boots planted safe on the ground, Lt. Thrasher is on a mission to help others fly on wings of pride.