In 2005, Sherwet Witherington volunteered for active duty in Iraq. “I knew I’d need that experience to be fit to lead other soldiers.” She risked her life to be a better leader, but she wasn’t ready to open up about her sexuality. “I never imagined that I’d be out—I figured I’d just have to marry a man,” Sherwet remembers.
But in 2010 that all changed. “As a gay, Egyptian female veteran with a penchant for counter terrorism, I watched the tides turn,” she says. Congress repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which barred openly gay people from military service. Then, Egyptian President Mubarak fell from power and Osama bin Laden’s compound was raided. “It was a big six months. The dissolution of these institutions that had been in place for much of my life was like the lifting of a veil I didn’t know existed. Suddenly, the world was more accessible, I felt comfortable in my own skin, and it seemed like anything was possible. So I took my girlfriend to a military event—and there was no nuclear wreckage when I introduced her.”
Sherwet came out to her family. She married her girlfriend. She had twins. And she joined Booz Allen.
“Working here is a huge relief,” she says. “I don’t have to hide who I am. I don’t have to worry about using the wrong pronoun or explain how my daughters came to be. I have a bobble head of my wife on my desk.”
The company’s inclusion, says Sherwet, goes beyond gay or lesbian. “Booz Allen is having conversations about the trans community in the military, about Latinx people, about all these intersections. It’s so relevant to me, as a person with multi hyphens and a blond, Christian wife who speaks fluent Indonesian. I love that Booz Allen serves the whole community.”
Being visible at work, Sherwet hopes, will encourage young LGBTQ+ people to harness their own courage. “What a difference it would have made to 21-year-old Sherwet if I’d seen a strong, intelligent gay woman stand up and say, ‘I’m just like you.’”
Sherwet never had that role model. But she intends to be one.