By Bree Wagner
Due to recent events, I am in no frame of mind to write original posts for this blog, but it's getting better all the time! Anyway, Bree Wagner volunteered to write a post for the blog... a timely piece regarding USA's military!
Some of you may know that I serve as an officer in the United States Air Force and that transgender individuals are still not allowed to openly serve in the US military. We all take a risk to be who we are and can't live fully authentic lives. The dishonesty and fear are difficult burdens to bear. However, through some amazing people and advocacy work the good news is really starting to roll in, though we're not to the finish line yet. #opentransservice is the goal and we're going to get there soon!
Here's a brief rundown of where we've been over the past year or so.
The first major media attention came out last year with a lot of stories about Kristin Beck, the retired Navy Seal. Over the winter several high-level DoD officials, including the Secretary of the Air Force, expressed their support for open trans service. These statements culminated in February when newly confirmed SecDef Carter visited Afghanistan and was asked about trans service by LCDR (Dr.) Jesse Ehrenfeld. He expressed support based on their ability to serve. Following the Q&A he shook hands with a hell of an impressive individual, SrA Logan Ireland, who is a FTM security forces airmen. The story is here.
A few months later the Army released an ALARACT (All Army Activities) raising the level of discharge authority for transgender soldiers up to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for manpower. A similar step was taken prior to the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell for gay and lesbian soldiers.
This month things really started to speed up. On June 4, the New York Times published a stunning editorial calling for the Pentagon to change the policy and let transgender troops serve openly. The story featured several of my good friends, including the already mention SrA Ireland, and an incredible video by an amazing ally and lead of the TransMilitary project, Fiona Dawson. Please check this one out and watch the touching video of Logan and Laila's struggle.
The evening that story was released came even bigger news, especially for me personally. The Air Force released a statement that did some things similar to the earlier announcement by the Army, but also went well beyond it in reinterpreting the policy to say Identification as transgender, absent a record of poor duty performance, misconduct, or a medically disqualifying condition, is not a basis for involuntary separation.
Wow! Huge change and a massive weight lifted from many shoulders. The full official announcement is here.
That weekend, another good friend of mine, Maj (Dr.) Jamie Lee Henry, told her story and was published in Buzzfeed. Jamie is the first known case where someone has had their gender changed in the official military personnel system (DEERS). She's still fighting to be allowed to wear the uniform and follow the grooming standards that are consistent with her legal gender.
We went into the following week, where the SecDef was speaking at Pentagon Pride, with some lofty aspirations. The hope was that he would announce a formal revision of the policy or at least acknowledge trans service members.
Unfortunately, we we're let down. Though the words were good, and everything people would have liked to hear applied to trans service, there was no mention made whatsoever. It was a huge disappointment, but momentum was still on our side.
Earlier this week, the Colorado Springs paper did a front page story on Patricia King. She's an openly trans infantry NCO.
However, not every story is positive. There is still far to much control at local levels and that results in a massive hodgepodge of policies that are different depending on where an individual is located. Our work isn't done.
On June 16, the Navy said it was reviewing similar changes to what the Army and the Air Force have done. That would leave only the Marine Corps to go, but there are still DoD level policies to be changed and all the services will need to formally change their policies as well.
After the policies change, there is still a lot of work to be done regarding implementation and to ensure that policies are applied fairly. DoD will also need to change it's non-discrimination policy to include gender identity just as it recently added sexual orientation (4 years after DADT repeal!).
I really applaud the work done by some very courageous individuals in telling their stories and pressing the boundaries. If not for them, allies like Fiona, and the wonderful support and advocacy organization SPART*A, we wouldn't be nearly so far down the road.
During this period, I tried to play a small part by working booths at the Philly Trans Health conference and at the DC Pride Festival. I was there to help spread the word about the SPARTA organization and to raise money for an emergency fund for trans service members by selling t-shirts. It was a great experience and I got to talk to so many wonderful people. Like Stana, I had been a veteran of many conferences, but this was my first time as a "Booth Babe."
I invite you to please support our efforts and get involved where you can. If you'd like to know more, please let me know. If you are a transgender service member (active duty, guard, or reserve) and are looking for support and resources, I'd be glad to put you in touch with a wider community. #opentransservice ― coming soon!
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