Feature Friday with Hugh Black and Cody Prelec

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Happy Friday, friends! This week’s Feature Friday is such a fun, loving story. You’ll get to know Hugh and Cody, two Air Force pilots who share how they make a long distance relationship work, the importance of “risk analysis” when coming out to people, and their experience as being an openly gay, married couple in the military. We had a blast learning about these two (plus, their pictures are so fun) and we think you will, too. Take a look below to see what we mean…

Where are you from? Hugh is from Phoenix, AZ and Cody is from Pittsburgh, PA.

Where do you live? Currently, Hugh lives in Philadelphia and Cody lives in Pittsburgh.  We have been doing the long distance since we met, so we are very excited that we are finally in the same state.  The ultimate plan is for both of us to live in Philadelphia.

Instagram handle: hugh_and_i_fly

Age: Hugh is 29 and Cody is 25.

On an unforgettable trip to Iceland: For us, one of our favorite places we have travelled was our most recent trip to Iceland.  Even though it was only a four-day trip, we made the most of it and didn’t waste any time.  The island was so fascinating and beautiful to us; this giant volcanic island with gorgeous waterfalls, beaches, and glaciers all over it.  We rented a car and drove around the Island; visiting the black sand beaches and some of the major waterfalls along the way.  The most interesting thing we did was going snorkeling in the Silfra, where the tectonic plates are separating.  The water is the clearest water on earth, it was fascinating.  Then one of the more romantic moments of the trip, was a 45 min hike through the mountains at night to a natural hot river; we got into the river and watched the northern lights, a moment we’ll never forget!  

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On the decision to come out: Hugh: I was in college when I came out to my family.  The catalysis moment which drove me to come out to my family was being asked to spend Christmas in Paris with the guy that I was seeing at the time.  If I was going to miss Christmas with my family for the first time, I wanted to make sure they knew why I was going to go to Paris instead of spending it with them.

Cody: Being tired of living a lie to my family and friends was the overarching reason I decided to come out.

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On each of their coming out experiences: Hugh: I think that everyone has multiple coming out experiences, especially for us being in the military.  My coming out to my family was pretty uneventful.  I told my sister first, where she proceeded to tell me that my Mom had been asking her constantly if she knew anything or if I had already told her; so needless to say, my mom already knew before I told her.  When I decided to tell my parents about Paris for Christmas and that I was gay, I called my mom.  Even though I already knew she had suspicions, I was still shaking holding my friends’ hand.  I think I said, “You know those questions you have been asking Brianna if I am gay, yeah it is true.”  Since she already knew, I think it was just the shock of the confirmation that shook her; she told me I had to tell my dad, however, not long after I talked to her, I got a call from my dad…so much for her not saying anything 😊. Overall, my family has been great, my dad had a little harder time, but he loves Cody now, and I am very thankful.  The military experience is a different story.  I was serving in the military while DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) was still in effect.  So while I was in college, at the Air Force Academy, and the first two years of my Active Duty career, I had to completely separate my personal life with my professional life, because if the wrong person found out, they could take administrative action and have me kicked out of the Air Force.  It was such a relief when DADT was repealed, and I knew I could at least be somewhat open about my life, without fear of losing my job.

Cody: My coming out experience was a little unconventional and almost purely based on risk analysis. I started by telling new people I was meeting (i.e. new members at the gym, different people I was becoming friends with at work, etc.) It felt easier to tell people as soon as we met rather than waiting, lying to them about who I really was, and then informing them of my truth. From there, I started telling family which made me nervous because the vast majority of my family is deeply religious. The first family member I told was my sister. We have always been very close, and still are; I thought she would take it better than she did, however, she was always supportive. I then told my oldest sister who embraced it as soon as I told her. She was full of questions, some very interesting and uncomfortable for someone who had recently come out, but it was nonetheless refreshing. With the support and presence of my oldest sister, I decided to come out to my mom. She took it a little harder than my sisters, which I expected. The largest task was coming out to my father. It had been almost a year since coming out to everyone else in my family before I decided it was finally time. Due to his religious beliefs I was worried about an abundance of potential negative response and reactions. The conversation was minimal, and he reacted much better than expected. My close friends were some of the last people I came out to. It all goes back to the risk analysis. I told new people first because I really didn't know or have relationships built with them so if they rejected me or my lifestyle, it was a very small loss. My family was second due to the fact that they have a sort of obligatory bond. Even if they disagreed with who I am, they still had loved and cared about me for all my life and were less likely to separate themselves from me. Lastly, I came out to my close friends. This was the most challenging for me because I spent years building relationships with them and it was difficult for me to tell them something that may compromise our friendship. I’ve heard and said to myself, “If they don't accept you, are not really your friends.” It was still challenging to come to terms with losing someone important to me. In the end, I haven't lost a friend yet. If anything, coming out has made my relationships with family and friends even stronger. 

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On the surprising side of coming out: I don’t think we necessarily learned anything new about ourselves, but rather, we learned a lot about other people. More often than not, friends will remain friends and family will love you even if they don't approve of your lifestyle.

On struggling internally: Hugh: I honestly didn’t accept that I was gay myself until I was a sophomore in college at the Air Force Academy.  I fought the thoughts all the way through high school.  Senior year of high school is when I would start thinking about it consistently. However, I still suppressed it, because I also knew at this time that I would be going to the Air Force Academy, and I didn’t want to admit that it was true. 

Cody: I grew up in rural Pennsylvania which was not very accepting to anyone identifying as gay. It was very oppressive but so was the culture my family was propagating. I grew up very religious and was taught that men are supposed to be with women. Period. That made me think there was something wrong with me. I struggled with it for quite some time and didn't begin coming out until my senior year of college.

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On how they met: We both got sent to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, AL for some training around the same time.  The Air Force got us in the same general area, but truthfully, Grindr brought us together.  So, we are a successful #metongrindr story 😊.  We only had one night to go out before Cody had to leave to go back home to Pittsburgh, but after that night we couldn’t stop thinking about each other and talking.  A few weeks later, we planned a Christmas trip to NYC, and if we didn’t know we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together after the first date, we knew after that trip.

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On being an openly gay couple in the military: Honestly, it has been better than both of us would have ever expected. It is amazing how far this country has come in terms of equality and inclusivity.  Just 36 years ago, thousands of men and women were discharged after the Department of Defense put into writing that “homosexuality was incompatible with military service.”  This was short lived and superseded by “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” which lead to more members being discharged until it was overturned in 2011 and afforded gay military personnel the opportunity to openly serve.  Moreover, we weren’t allowed to legally marry until three years ago, and it feels so great to be able to talk about our Husband at work.  It is amazing to not have to change pronouns when talking about what we did over the weekend to people we serve with.  There is still some fear with older generations that may still have a problem with it, that they will act differently or not provide opportunities to us, however, we haven’t experienced this directly yet, and I hope that we or anyone else doesn’t have to go through that.

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On making long distance relationships work: The biggest key component of making a long distance relationship work is trust.  We have been doing long distance since we met over two years ago, and there hasn’t been a moment where we don’t trust each other.  The other key component of long distance relationships is no matter how busy you both are, is to always still make your significant other a priority.  Take some time just for yourselves.  Our thing would be to watch a TV show or movie “together.”  We would set a time to start the show or movie at the same time together, and then text each other about thing we find shocking or interesting during the show or movie.  We also make every effort to see each other to the best of our abilities.  The longest we have gone was two months of not being able to see each other, and we both agreed that was just about the absolute max, we never want to go that long again, unless we are deployed and have no option.  Communication is of course important as well, but we think that goes back to always making time for each other.  We seem to talk constantly throughout the day when ever we aren’t together, so communication hasn’t been much of an issue for us.   

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On their decision to join the military: Hugh: I come from a military family.  My dad’s dad is retired Army, my mom’s dad was retired Marine Corps, I have an aunt that served in the Army, and an uncle that retired from the Marine Corps as well.  Then growing up, I always wanted to be a pilot, and my dad mentioned that if I wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force to check out the Air Force Academy.  After looking into it, I got hooked and made it my goal to get accepted into the Air Force Academy.  So, I wouldn’t say my family forced me into the military at all, but they had a strong influence in the decision.  I think it may have been the main reason why I denied the fact that I was gay to myself for so long.  I knew that I was going to be going into the Air Force, and at the time I couldn’t be gay, or I would be kicked out.  As I look back on it now though, I wouldn’t change a thing. I had some incredible experiences going to the Air Force Academy and now serving in the military.  I got to fly airplanes and gliders, jump out of airplanes; They sent me to Guam, China, and Spain, and I got to work for NASA on a summer internship. I made friends of a lifetime and ultimately, it led me to meeting Cody.   

Cody: I joined because I thought it would be fun. I have no regrets so far. However, DADT was just repealed just prior to my enlistment and I can recall signing my contract, the recruiter pointed to the box asking if you were gay and said, “Don’t answer that one.” I didn't come out to my unit for 5 years and it was more of an outing than a coming out. I was away for training and I told one person. From there, the gossip spread like wildfire. It was the talk of the town for a while, but everyone has been very accepting. The Air Force has afforded me opportunities that I would have never had otherwise. I started as Aerospace Maintenance and have since become a Pilot on the aircraft I was repairing. I have been around the world more times than I can count, and I couldn't ask for more.

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On looking ahead to the future: Hugh will continue to serve full time in the Air Force, and hopefully be promoted as high as he can before retiring.  Cody will transition to part-time Air Force service and hopes to get hired on an Airline in a few years and be based out of Philadelphia so we can finally live together in the same city! For our relationship, we hope to continue growing stronger every day and spend our lives together.  Once we are both in the same spot, and our condo is done being built in Philadelphia, we will be in the market for a pupper.  Kids may be in the future one day for us as well, but we said we will come back to that discussion in a few years, when Hugh is around 35 or 36; we want to enjoy our time together now, finally being only a few hours apart and travel as much as we can!

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