Gay Woman Alleges Discrimination from National Guard Over Her Short Hair and Lack of Jewelry, Makeup

A supervisor allegedly discussed Technical Sgt. Kristin Kingrey's "masculine features" with a colleague and told her to "counsel" Kingrey about ways Kingrey could look more feminine

Kristin Kingrey
Photo: Courtesy Kristin Kingrey

A long-serving Air National Guard member is suing the U.S. Army and Air Force over harassment and discrimination that she says she faced because she is a lesbian and does not appear feminine enough for her supervisors.

Attorneys for Technical Sgt. Kristin Kingrey filed the lawsuit in November, claiming she received "negative, disparaging, and intentionally discriminatory remarks" because of her sexual orientation and her looks, according to the complaint.

The suit describes Kingrey — who began working for the Air National Guard in 2007 and became a civilian employee for the National Guard in 2016 — as "tall and broad in stature" and says, "she keeps her hair short in length and does not don make-up or jewelry."

Kingrey also states in the complaint that her employment was allegedly threatened because of her appearance.

An Army spokesperson told PEOPLE, "As a matter of policy, the Army does not comment on ongoing litigation." A request for comment from the Air Force was not returned.

While Kingrey was deployed in Qatar, Vice Wing Commander Col. Michael Cadle, a supervisor who was responsible for hiring and promoting at McLaughlin Air National Guard Base in Charleston, West Virginia, told a female lieutenant colonel to speak with Kingrey when she came back about her appearance, according to her complaint.

Cadle allegedly discussed Kingrey's "masculine features" with Lt. Col. Kelly Ambrose and told her to "counsel" Kingrey about ways Kingrey could look more feminine, including growing her hair and using makeup.

A request for comment from the West Virginia Air National Guard at the McLaughlin base, where the service members were stationed, was not immediately returned.

However, officials with the West Virginia National Guard gave a statement to local TV station WTRF in December, saying they were "fully committed to an inclusive and diverse workforce free from harassment."

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"As a matter of policy, the WVNG does not comment on matters that are currently pending in litigation. But generally, the WVNG advised an outside agency who is charged with conducting investigations that are prompt, fair, and impartial in matters like this one," the statement reads. "They produced a report with the factual record, and it was determined that no discrimination and/or harassment occurred. As such, we are continuing the process to present the facts to fully resolve this matter in the court system."

Kingry's lawsuit also states that Cadle, the supervisor, said Kingley's career advancement would be negatively affected if she didn't change her appearance as he suggested.

When she was back in the base, Ambrose told Kingrey about the conversation.

Kingrey told The Daily Beast in an article published Monday that Ambrose was "completely appalled and angered" by the meeting with Cadle.

She added that "for a very brief moment, literally a moment" she considered changing her appearance to comply with Cadle's recommendation.

Kristin Kingrey
Courtesy Kristin Kingrey

"I thought it would really devastate my career," Kingrey told The Daily Beast. "Then I thought, 'I'm within the guidance. This is a personal belief on their part. I am who I am. I am being myself. I am not the one in the wrong. I am not the one who crossed the line. Why should I have to change because of someone else's belief?' "

Her lawsuit alleges that there was retaliation against her, after she had been offered a permanent job that she was qualified for but then the position was "pulled out from under her."

Furthermore, after Kingey submitted an Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint about the discrimination she says she faced, she claims she was notified of an investigation into her conduct — specifically "fraternization," or socializing among service members of different ranks.

The lawsuit states that Ambrose was also being investigated.

"In all my time in the military, no one has blinked when men do it — hunting, going fishing, playing golf, families vacationing together — but here we are, three women, under investigation for the same," Kingrey told The Daily Beast. "I find it very odd that shortly after I filed my Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint complaint [EEOC] I find myself under investigation."

According to her lawsuit, Kingrey was "frequently harassed for the length of her hair": "Specifically, that her hair was allegedly too short for the regulations governing women's hair."

Kingrey claims she also faced harassment and discrimination when she was the subject of rumors that she was transitioning from female to male and was made to try on a "women's Honor Guard jacket, in front of others, to confirm that none of the women's sizes would fit."

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