Editor’s note: This is an unedited version of a profile that appears in the Summer Pride print edition we will be publishing digitally as a regular series. If you would like to pick up a copy of OutLife757, copies have been distributed throughout Hampton Roads at libraries, community centers and businesses. Click HERE to find a copy or view the print edition online.
Norfolk resident Linda Hardy has led an interesting life of service guided by her faith in God and just as importantly – faith in herself and with innate talents for mathematics and athletics allowed her to challenge the status quo and trailblaze her own path.
Hardy, who was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, realized she was attracted to women was at the age of nine at a time when homosexuality was literally illegal, forcing many of her generation to a life in the closet. However, at a young age, Hardy rejected the condemnation of homosexuals by her family’s church and challenged other norms, thus beginning a journey where she remained true to herself while working within the societal framework of the 1960s and ’70s.
Hardy was both a witness to and affected by the racial and sexual discrimination faced by gay women of color, but this did not stop her from pursuing her interests. Her strong will and talent for mathematics (and basketball), Hardy was often the only woman of color in her mathematic and statistics classes at Bowling Green State University where she succeeded and still learned an important lesson.
“You have to be very persistent, have a thick skin and not care about what anybody says…you have to learn not to take ‘no’ for an answer. ‘No’ is simply a ‘maybe’ for now,” Hardy said.
During one particularly boring English class, Hardy was bored and she began reading the student newspaper and an ad for the local ROTC program caught her eye. So, she walked out of the English class and signed up for ROTC. With this impulsive act, Hardy embarked upon a successful military career where her talents were appreciated, encouraged while being trusted with many of the military’s secrets at a time prior to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ when being homosexual would prevent you from enlisting/get you kicked out of the military.
“I had good instructors my entire career. It’s the only way I made Colonel. I always had white, male instructors who believe in me and who showed me off, especially when they wanted to take a poke at the guys,” Hardy recalls.
During most of her military career, Hardy was not officially ‘out’, but this did not prevent her from establishing fulfilling same-sex relationships on and off-base. She met her first partner Vanessa on the basketball court. During her career, she was stationed in Ohio, Nebraska and at the Pentagon and always managed to find other gay and lesbian service members to socialize and support one another.
In the pre-email and internet days of the 1970s and ’80s, gay and lesbian service members had to get creative to meet, establishing underground networks to connect with one another. Hardy recalls attending a party in the DC area with her former partner which led to her being included in a secret mailing list of other gay service members who would be invited to a rotating series of parties. While this interaction within the Pentagon may now seem innocent and a bit quaint today, at the time these actions would end your military career.
“I would pass them (other members) in the hallways at the Pentagon, especially the Master Sergeant, I’d see him all the time and he’d usually tell me, ‘the next party is going to be at such and such place’ and hand me a little card with the address,” Hardy said.
During the 1980s, Hardy and her former partner took care of and nursed a lot of male friends succumb to AIDS and watch as other gay service members are kicked out of the military. Hardy feels that her position as an officer with a unique talent needed by the military kept her in the service. And as a holder of a high-security clearance, Hardy is certain her phone was tapped during this time, and her superiors likely knew she was gay, but her talent as an analyst and commitment trumped her sexuality and personal life.
“If you had a skill they (the military) wanted, you were safe,” Hardy recalls.
In the early 80’s, while stationed in Nebraska, Hardy learned of a Metropolitan Community Church in Kansas City and made the trip to worship in an LGBTQ-friendly environment. Since then, she has been active in the church while living in the Washington, D.C. area and continued following her move to Norfolk where she is an active member of the New Life Metropolitan Community Church and continues to serve the local community and overseas. God has always been an important part of her life, who she is and as she says often, “God is good, baby!”
Following her retirement from the Air Force as Lt. Colonel n 1997, Hardy was inspired to help others following a service trip to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. During her initial visit, she learned the orphanage did not have enough funds to feed the children in their care every day. Following this visit, Hardy started a Prayer Penny Ministry where she collects spare change in jars that she sends to Kids International Inc. (KI) that feeds who she refers to as ‘her kids’ at the orphanage. To date, she has raised over $136,400 for KI. KI is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit that distributes funds to two schools and an orphanage near Santo Domingo.
As a breast cancer survivor, Hardy has been a participant and witness to history and ultimately a survivor and has this advice for young people in the LGBTQ community.
“Be who you are and don’t conform too much. That’s one of my regrets, that I had to conform a lot,” Hardy said. She also went on to offer this advice, “take better care of yourself, health-wise.”
On most weekends, you can find Hardy traveling the country, participating in urban line dancing events, spending time with her grandchildren on the beach in Norfolk, on a cruise with her wife Phyllis or at New Life MCC.
If you are interested in donating your spare change to Kids International, feel free to contact Linda via email at LindaNLMCC@aol.com or via post at P.O. Box 8838, Norfolk, VA 23503.