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Thank You For Your Service - Even If You Are Transgender?

Today I’d like to report on two recent conversations I had that focused on the challenges faced by transgender people who are now serving, have served, or want to serve in the United States military.

At one of my recent book talks I met a veteran who identified herself as a trans woman. She told me she has found it extremely difficult to get appropriate medical care at the VA. She said that she is often misgendered, meaning she is referred to and treated as a man even though she identifies as a woman. She said that the few medical providers at the VA who do understand and respect her needs and treat her as a woman still don’t seem to know how to provide care for a woman who has, as she said, “man parts.”

She went on to say that she has been able to get the VA to send her to another clinic that is more prepared to meet her needs, and the VA has also agreed to reimburse the clinic for her care. She told me she considers herself lucky that she has the mental and physical abilities to do the legwork and research needed to find her way through the broken VA system, and she tries to help other people who find themselves in a similar situation. She gives me hope.

The subject of transgender troops came up again when I was speaking to someone I know who is a medical doctor and also an officer in the Navy. She told me that, “Yes, the military should be where men and women, people of all colors and gender preferences work and fight together against common enemies. The military has been working hard (despite what Trump is saying) to accept and allow transgender individuals to serve their country.” She gives me hope too.

And yet, from the moment he stepped into office President Trump has attacked the rights of transgender people. Via a tweet in July last year, Trump announced an order that “The United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” He went further, announcing an end to any transition-related care provided to already enlisted transgender troops. However, responding to lawsuits by the ACLU and GLAD, two different federal appeals courts have since rejected the administration’s request to put a hold on orders by lower court judges requiring the military to begin accepting transgender recruits on January 1, 2018. In other words, the courts have sided with the plaintiffs and against the President’s tweeted regulation. There is hope (read more here).

In a 2015 study the Pentagon concluded that “There were no reasons to exclude trans individuals from military service.” According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, it is estimated that over 134,000 American veterans are transgender, and over 15,000 trans people serve in military today. NCTE also states that while things have been improving, transgender service members and veterans still face many challenges that compromise their health and well-being.(read more here) But despite court rulings as well as the Pentagon’s own rejection of such regulations, the proposed ban is supported by the Republican National Committee in a resolution passed earlier this month on February 2, 2018.

As always, there is hope. In my conversation with the medical doctor and Naval officer I recounted above, she also told me that, “We have at least four talks or educational sessions a year so that all military members can learn about transgender transitioning and the basic principle of treating others how you would like to be treated—with dignity and respect.”

Dignity and respect. These are values held dear to us all and are core values of our military. Transgender people deserve the same dignity and respect shown any other person willing to risk their lives to protect the rights of all people in our nation.


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