Arts & Culture

Granddaughter of well-known Coast senator shares struggle with ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Jenna Lockwood, right, poses with her grandfather for a photo. Lockwood, an Air Force veteran and lesbian, joined the military before “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed. Lockwood spoke with Justin Mitchell for the “Out Here In America” podcast.
Jenna Lockwood, right, poses with her grandfather for a photo. Lockwood, an Air Force veteran and lesbian, joined the military before “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed. Lockwood spoke with Justin Mitchell for the “Out Here In America” podcast. Courtesy Jenna Lockwood

Jenna Lockwood never got the chance to tell her grandmother that she was gay.

Former Mississippi Senator Margaret “Wootsie” Tate, 72, died in 2006 after a long battle with cancer. Tate was one of Lockwood’s role models growing up. She would always tag along with Tate on the “campaign trail” through Picayune and Poplarville — small, rural towns in Mississippi. It was then that Jenna learned about Tate’s progressive attitude and aggressiveness. Wootsie Tate got stuff done.

Before she died, Tate fought against a bill that would have authorized a landfill to be placed in neighboring Hancock County. Weak from the cancer, it was hard for Tate to walk, Lockwood said, but she went to a meeting and stood up to tell people why the dump should be moved somewhere else. People listened. The landfill is not in Hancock County.

“She was just that kind of person. She was stubborn. It doesn’t matter if you agreed with her or not, you were hearing it,” Lockwood said. “So, I was like, that’s how I’m going to be.”

Lockwood, a United States Air Force Veteran, joined the military in 2008 because of the influence of Tate and her grandfather. She planned on telling her grandmother she was gay, but cancer took her first.

“I joined to help people, to help our country, to keep people safe,” Lockwood said in an interview for Out Here In America, a podcast produced by Sun Herald and McClatchy that explores the lives of LGBTQ people in the Deep South and America’s heartland. You can subscribe now on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.

But Jenna didn’t always feel safe. She joined the military when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was still law of the land.

When she left for boot camp, Lockwood said she told herself, “You’re going in this. This is something you have to do. No one has to know.

“I told myself I want to serve my country and do this no matter what. If I would have gotten kicked out, I still would have served my country.”

Lockwood also served when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was finally repealed, but her story doesn’t end there. It’s what happened in those six years between the change that has helped shaped Lockwood’s views about social issues as well as her voice for activism for the LGBTQ community.

And although she never got to be open with her grandmother, she said she knows in her heart she would love and accept her no matter what. In fact, she says she still feels Tate’s presence, because she still lives on the family hill in Picayune where she grew up.

“I see my grandmother everyday in different aspects,” Lockwood said. “That’s very calming. The rest of it, I just take the approach that she does — like me or not, I don’t care.

In this episode you’ll hear:

  • About Jenna Lockwood’s attachment to the small, rural town she calls home and why she lives there with her wife and son
  • Why she lied on a questionnaire about sexual preference during the beginning stages of the repeal process of “don’t ask, don’t tell”
  • How the military changed with “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repeated
  • Why she chose to not reenlist after the 2016 presidential election
  • Why she and her wife applied for marriage licenses before same-sex marriage was legal in Mississippi
  • How Jenna Lockwood remembers her grandmother

Justin Mitchell: 228-604-0705, @JustinMitchell_

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