By Emily Starbuck Gerson

It’s easy to mistakenly assume that Carla Moss is a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The Army veteran identifies as a straight cisgender woman, but she’s spent her life being a devoted LGBTQ+ ally, especially since she has so many friends and family in the community. Moss has been a long-time supporter of MMAA, and its predecessor, AMPA. 

Moss grew up in Washington, D.C. and enlisted in the Army in 1993, where she served in numerous capacities ranging from a motor transport operator (88M) to an executive assistant (71C). She won a litany of awards and decorations and served until 2001, when she was medically boarded and honorably discharged. 

During the years of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Moss watched in horror as her friends and colleagues were forced into the closet or retirement, or worse, dishonorably discharged. She also personally faced years of discrimination, but for different reasons: for being a woman and for being African American. Moss soldiered on while fighting for inclusion and a seat at the table, and while progress has been slow, she’s proud to see the military space become more inclusive of all minority and marginalized groups. 

Since leaving the military, Moss has continued to work for the federal government while also pursuing higher education. Today, Moss is a program manager and a volunteer event coordinator for the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall (JBM-HH) military and veteran community. She’s also currently the JBM-HH Command Group’s executive assistant at Fort Myer, Virginia. 

Outside of work, Moss serves on a staggering number of national and local councils, committees, and boards while assisting those in need, and she’s won numerous awards for her efforts. She’s also the proud mom to Aysia and Andre, and her children share her passion for giving back to the community.  

For Women’s History Month, MMAA interviewed Moss to learn about her experiences as a female African American service member and veteran, what it was like serving during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, why she’s passionate about being an LGBTQ+ ally, and how she’s working to make the world a more inclusive place for everyone. 

Modern Military Association of America: What are some challenges you faced in the service as an African American woman?

Carla Moss: Some of the challenges that I have faced in the service as an African American woman were double standards, ageism, racism, and gender bias. I became a Soldier at the same time as the military was in the beginning stages of establishing what our actual roles were going to be as female service members. The military was in the midst of integrating our careers into positions they thought were useful and fluid, but not always practical or reasonable. 

I can recall a moment where a male Soldier of higher rank approached me and stated boldy, “You are not at all what we expected. We truly expected you to have a Black woman’s attitude, be difficult to work with, and be unschooled. Here you are and you are the exact opposite. What are we going to do with you now?” 

There were instances where I would walk into areas and just for being there, I would be called everything derogatory except late for dinner. Often, statements were made and heard that female service members were considered the fairer of the genders, which often complicated procedures, policies, and sometimes missions. 

There were several occasions when I was passed over for the younger Soldier(s), male or female, for the same promotions and/or positions when they possessed less education, less promotion points, worse evaluations, or less professional credentials than I had. 

Throughout my military career, a majority of my senior leader chain were African American women and female service members who were pathfinders and trailblazers of their time who took the time to open doors and windows for me to go through. Their valued expertise and mentorship has impressed upon me to be the successful and powerful woman you see before you today. 

MMAA: You served while Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was in place; what was it like seeing friends and colleagues having to suppress their authentic selves? 

CM: With the implementation of DADT, we all had to modify our authentic selves to deal with the changing climate of that time. As a service member serving during one of the most controversial and challenging eras in history, it was extremely difficult to see not just my friends and colleagues who were serving in the military go through this transition, but it was heartbreaking to see many others having to suppress or conceal their own authentic selves or change their personalities and characteristics because of what DADT entailed. 

During this extremely complicated time, once happy and engaging social environments with friendly conversations at times turned into cold, distant, dissociative surroundings. I was very disheartened to see several service members who had planned to have long military careers suddenly decide to leave the service or retire early. At that time, there were some who identified as LGBTQ+ who bravely chose to stay in their positions. They faced fear, prejudice, lack of empathy, harassment, and endless scrutiny on unbelievable levels. 

Unfortunately, there were also some who were discharged from service for disclosures or for being accused of violating DADT policies despite their best efforts to try to lead normal lives as much as humanly possible. 

MMAA: What are some areas where you’ve witnessed improvement in the military space, whether for the African American woman community and/or LGBTQ community, since you enlisted? 

CM: I am proud to be a witness, and in some areas a participant, to some great improvements and progress within our military spaces and in the African American and LGBTQ+ communities. Instead of ignoring, denouncing, and/or tolerating certain situations, agendas, environments, and initiatives, it’s great to see high-level leaders, senior leaders, organizations, and community partners are now actively listening and supporting as we are enlightening and educating others — all while building relationships and changing thought processes for a much better way ahead. 

Previously closed and bolted doors are opening wide for us to walk or step through together. We are having meaningful and productive conversations that were overdue in places like Congress, the Pentagon, Capitol Hill, state and county offices, on military installations, and on social media. We are starting to include everyone at the table who is bringing something good to eat and to share. 

MMAA: Why is being an LGBTQ+ ally so important to you?

CM: Being an LGBTQ+ ally is important to me because I have family and friends that belong to the LGBTQ+ community. By being LGBTQ+ ally, my support helps to provide education and awareness with regards to ongoing issues and actions that have a serious impact on the LGBTQ+ community. 

Education and awareness is very important because there are some misconceptions and ignorance about LGBTQ+ issues, concerns, and about the community as a whole that are still present. I want to stand up for those that are facing inequality. 

It would be amazing if other people would consider being an LGBTQ+ ally too. As an ally, you can connect with a wider range of people, organizations, and professionals by building strong, supportive, and lasting personal and professional relationships together. 

MMAA: What does Women’s History Month mean to you, especially as an African American woman and female veteran?

CM: Women’s History Month is special to me and always will be. During this month, we recognize women’s contributions to culture, history, and education. We celebrate legacies and traditions that have been passed down and provided to us to improve upon for future generations to come. 

As an African American woman and female veteran, this opportunity allows me to pay my respect and deep homage to historic icons and trailblazers who have surpassed expectations and have served our country with dedication, courage, and with pride, such as: Private Cathay Williams (first African American woman to enlist in the U.S. Army), General Hazel Johnson (first African American female chief of the Army Corps and first African American brigadier general), LTG Nadja West (first African American female lieutenant general and the highest ranking woman graduate from USMA), and Shirley Chisholm (first African American Congresswoman and first African American woman to run for U.S. President). 

MMAA: We know you’re passionate about community work and volunteering. What are some efforts you’re involved in to make the world a more inclusive place for minority groups or marginalized communities?

CM: I am involved with several different community organizations and efforts to improve lives and communities everywhere. These efforts include being a volunteer event coordinator or volunteering with organizations such as JBM-HH Army Community Service (ACS), USO Metro, Women In Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA), the Armed Forces Retirement Home, my local VFW, Blue Star Families, Operation Homefront, the White House, President’s Park, local honor flights, and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) as a Good Grief Camp mentor. I create volunteer and community service projects while managing volunteers for both local communities and organizations. 

On the third Thursday of every month, I partner with the Capital Area Food Bank and the USO to provide a community service project for volunteers and provide bundles of fresh produce and nonperishable food for pick-up to our service members, veterans, DOD civilians, and their families through our monthly MILFAM Market. 

As the Education Committee Chair and Scholarship Committee Chair for National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NOVA chapter), I provide support for educational programs and workshops for both middle and high schoolers in the Northern Virginia area. I am the Vice President of Education for Capital Superior Speakers Toastmasters Club (National Guard Bureau), the Vice President of Community Outreach for Adjutant General’s Corps Regimental Association (AGCRA- Potomac Chapter), an advisor for the Washington Tattoo, volunteer advisor for both the MDW Sergeant Audie Murphy Club and Fort Mead Sergeant Audie Murphy Club. 

I also serve as the Black Girls Social Club-NOVA Community Service Coordinator. I am a 2nd Lieutenant in Civil Air Patrol (CAP) based out of Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Always, I serve others with pride, compassion, and devotion. 

MMAA: What are your hopes for the future?

CM: My future hope would be for all of us to work together to help end inequality and to address growing concerns that affect us all. Advocacy, education, and having supportive allies is vital for any community to positively grow and thrive. The work that we do together is important and necessary. It’s time that we focus, get it together, and make it work.