Andrea Norton celebrated as Pride Month Game Changers honoree

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Andrea Norton wants marginalized veterans to know they are not alone.

After graduating from Bay City Western High School in Auburn, Mich., in 1998, Norton enlisted in the United States Air Force. But as a bisexual woman in a male-dominated field, Norton said she was forced to compartmentalize her true self.

“I served under the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ motto,” Norton said. “It was a heavy burden to hide a lot of who I was.”

After her service ended in 2007, Norton returned to Michigan and enrolled at Michigan State University. She described readjusting to civilian life as a difficult process.

“When I got out of the military, figuring out who I was became very daunting,” Norton said. “You go from this environment of structure and decisions already being made for you to a whole new identity outside of the military. It’s up to you to figure out who you are.”

Norton said she battled severe depression before forming a “life-saving” connection with one of her professors — Dr. Austin Jackson, a U.S. Navy veteran.

According to Norton, Dr. Jackson encouraged her to embrace all parts of her identity.

“I am intrinsically motivated,” Norton said. “The two most salient parts of my identity are my veteran identity and my queer identity. I want people to be able to show up as their full, authentic selves in whatever space they occupy and not have to choose.”

Grateful for the various support she received, Norton has dedicated herself to helping veterans, especially women and LGBTQ+ people, overcome their personal struggles.

To help her fellow veterans, Norton began working as a housing specialist in the Homeless Veterans Program for the Aleda E. Lutz Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2014.

“A lot of the work that I do is based on my personal experiences and truly wanting things to be better for other veterans,” Norton said.

Located in Saginaw, Mich., the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center offers a wide range of health, support and facility services for veterans in the central and northern parts of the state.

Norton was promoted to community engagement & partnership coordinator in 2021, where she works closely with communities to help foster a public health approach to veteran suicide prevention.

Norton is the third Game Changers honoree that the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers and Comerica Bank are recognizing throughout June as part of Pride Month.

“When we established Game Changers in 2021, our goal was to ensure leaders of all backgrounds and experiences could be recognized for their life-changing work,” said Kevin Brown, director of community impact for Ilitch Sports + Entertainment. “Andrea Norton’s journey from serving in the military to now helping veterans thrive as their authentic selves is why we’re thrilled to name her as a Game Changers honoree.”

Norton admitted she does not like being the center of attention, but is grateful to be named a Pride Month Game Changers honoree because the public recognition will encourage veterans in need to reach out for help.

“I am not ego-driven whatsoever,” Norton said. “I genuinely want to make things better for veterans like myself. I’ve gotten more comfortable in this type of recognition because of the simple fact that I know how sharing my story helps other veterans share theirs. The more diverse voices that are heard in this space, I know it matters.”

To learn more about the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center and additional resources for veterans, visit va.gov.

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