Kimberly Stuart used the challenges she faced during her service to help other Veterans so they can have pride for all aspects of their identity.
Kimberly Stuart’s time in the Air Force inspired her current work as the CEO of Veterans for Diversity, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Milwaukee that focuses on “honoring LGBTQ+ service.” Stuart joined the Air Force in 1988 after high school. Her father and grandfather had served, and her mother worked as a registered nurse at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Milwaukee, so Stuart grew up respecting those in service and envisioning a similar life for herself.
After completing basic and career training, Stuart was assigned to Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, where she did electromechanical work to support intercontinental ballistic missile system readiness. There, she was among few other women and was the first female electromechanical team chief for the nuclear-armed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system. When talking about this experience, Stuart said it was a “joy to work on something and never see it go anywhere.”
In 1995, Stuart left active duty as a technical sergeant and joined the 128th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) in the Wisconsin Air National Guard (ANG) in Milwaukee. With the ANG, Stuart worked in weather forecasting, and toward the end of her service, she worked as a base education and training manager.
Stuart retired in 2003 after 15 years of service. She served before and during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), which forced her to hide who she was and not live an authentic life. DADT created a dangerous and systemic environment of fear for LGBTQ+ Veterans. She also experienced Military Sexual Trauma (MST) incidents that led to a VA diagnosis of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depression and Anxiety.
Hiding her identity while serving created systemic traumas that Stuart wanted to heal. Eventually, she discovered Veterans for Diversity through an advertisement about participating in the Color Guard at PrideFest Milwaukee. At this event, she was thanked for being who she was completely. This experience caused her to see a combined identity of herself as a lesbian and as a Veteran. It was an empowering moment she wanted to share with more LGBTQ+ Veterans.
Stuart joined the board of Veterans for Diversity and became the CEO a few years later – in 2018. Stuart wanted to build a bridge between LGBTQ+ Veterans and VA services. LGBTQ+ Veterans have unique needs, and she wants all Veterans to know that it’s okay to share this with VA. She wants Veterans to be comfortable going to VA and talking about how “it can be difficult to be out in a Veteran centered space.”
Stuart has also worked with the Milwaukee VA to write a new pamphlet for LGBTQ+ members and worked with the VA chaplain to create a talk for the community by ensuring there’s a space for all religious Veterans. She knows all Veterans deserve to be treated in a dignified manner and that “caring for Veterans requires listening to their needs.”
With Veterans for Diversity, Stuart created a scholarship program.
“Education was kind of a savior for me. It kept my mind busy and focused,” she said. Veterans for Diversity also sponsors LGBTQ+ Veterans’ participation in emotional healing retreats and engages in community outreach through their Color Guard. During the pandemic, Veterans for Diversity focused on creating food security for Veterans in the Milwaukee area, a network of volunteers and local sponsors supporting the efforts.
Stuart has used the challenges she faced during her service to help other Veterans know they are not alone and to get the support they need, so they can have pride in all aspects of their identity. She was given the 2020 Bridge Builder award by Milwaukee Magazine.
We honor her service.
Writer: Kimberly Kassis
Editors: Alexander Reza, Brooke Wolfenbarger
Researchers: David Charles Deprez, Kennady Hertz
Graphic Designer: Brittany Gorski