What’s most important when it comes to providing world-class healthcare to veterans? Ask Beau Williams, and he’ll proudly admit, “It’s about connecting, instilling hope, and inviting everyone to the table.
In 2007, Williams joined James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital & Clinics after working as a clinical social worker in the private sector. He vividly remembers the excitement he felt on his first day of orientation with the public service. This was overshadowed by the omission of sexual orientation and gender identity from the anti-discrimination policy shared by HR at the time.
Williams was first assigned to acute care as a clinical social worker and within a year became the medical foster home program coordinator for Pasco and Hernando counties. Although he never served in the military, he found success and joy in communicating with veterans and enjoyed listening to their stories. But when the conversations got personal, Williams had to take a step back.
Unbeknownst to the veterans he served, Williams was gay, and conversations about the gay community’s personal life weren’t something he — or society — felt comfortable discussing at work. .
“Patients often asked about my wife, and I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it,” Williams said. “I knew they wanted to connect with me on a professional level, so I just ignored the gender part of the equation, and smiled and said, ‘we’re doing great.'”
This bothered Williams who admitted he never meant to lie or misrepresent his situation.
“I didn’t want it to be a problem at work, so I just rolled with it,” Williams said.
2007 was a different time for the LGBT community in America. That was four years before the repeal of Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell (DADT) in 2011 and six years before the repeal of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013.
“Until they repeal DADT and DOMA, LGBTQ+ veterans viewed their ‘cousin’ as next of kin because they were petrified that being exposed would cause them to lose their benefits,” said continued Williams. “It hurt me to see them suffer.”
As part of his responsibilities, Williams made monthly visits to veterans at medical foster homes where he provided supervision. During one of his visits, a veteran named David, who served honorably in World War II and in Korea, asked if he could speak openly. As Williams recalled, during their conversation, David shared with him that he was gay and confided that Williams was the only person he had ever told.
“I don’t think he ever felt safe,” Williams said through a flood of tears. “I think he considered me a gift, and that’s why he felt comfortable sharing the most personal information that he had hidden from the rest of the world, even his own family.”
Williams said he shared with David that he was also gay and gradually offered some details about his partner and their relationship.
“From that day on, with a smile on his face, he always asked how my partner and I were doing – by name,” Williams continued. “He would often ask me jokingly, ‘Do you think I’m too old to find a partner? “”
David was 88 at the time.
Looking back, Williams realized that David never would have imagined society would accept him having a relationship with a man. Williams and David spoke monthly, and Williams recalls how excited David was when same-sex marriage became law in Florida in 2015.
“His eyes would light up at the thought of a gay man living openly,” Williams confessed. “I think in a way sharing parts of my life with him allowed David to live vicariously through me.”
In 2017 David passed away in the love and support of his family Medical Foster Home.
“When you get to connect with someone, you become part of the other person’s life,” Williams said. “When he died, I lost a friend and a member of my family.”
At Tampa VA’s first Pride Observance several years ago, Williams agreed to be a featured speaker. During his talk, he shared David’s story and recounted the impact David had on his life.
“There are a lot of Davids there. We are here to serve all who have served, Williams said.
Williams moved from social work service to education a few years ago. He is now a Training Specialist, which allows him to be an integral part of supporting Tampa VA employees and veterans.
“I’ve always been motivated to serve,” Williams continued. “In this role, I am part of a team that creates opportunities for our staff and helps them grow personally and professionally to support all of our veterans.
Williams’ passion for helping others – in Tampa VA or throughout the local community, remains rooted in the importance of valuing the strengths of inclusivity and the power of diversity among our veterans and staff.
Deep in his head are the memories of so many veterans, including David.
“If David was here today he would say, ‘Love one another and be happy,'” Williams added. “David never thought he had the chance to have a meaningful relationship and be happy. Sometimes the sacrifices that veterans make aren’t just limited to war. we can connect and work together to help them be whole Our heroes deserve it.
Veterans can contact the Tampa VA LGBTQSA Veteran Care Coordinator at: 813-972-2000 x 6337. Additional support details can be found here: To support LGBT veterans and their caregiversor by calling the LGBT Veteran Caregiver Helpline at 1-855-260-3274.