For transgendered soldiers, Dont’ Ask Don’t Tell carries on
October 29, 2012
On an afternoon in January 1998, Monica Helms walked into a building in Phoenix, Arizona, where she lay her reapplication papers on the counter in front of her and waited for the reaction she knew was coming.
She had been a member of her hometown’s chapter of the United States Submarine Veterans since around 1980, but not under the name “Monica.” Back when she joined, she’d been a man, as all submariners had been at the time, and was unconditionally accepted into a select group within the military. But now, dressing full-time as a woman and six months into the process of becoming physically female, this routine reapplication quickly became more complicated.
The chapter president called up the national organization, which bounced the problem right back to him, saying it was a local issue. So the Phoenix group of about a dozen tried to push her into a generic veterans’ organization for women. She said no. They asked if they could list her as her former name, with “Monica” in parentheses. No.
After months of this, she called the national chairman, who said that if Phoenix wouldn’t let her back in, she could rejoin as an at-large member; after all, the only two requirements for admission were an honorable discharge and prior work on a submarine. Monica registered and asked her hometown group to vote on whether they wanted to see her at meetings. They did.
U.S. Submarine Veterans is now a coed group, and Monica, 61, swells with pride when she says she was the first woman to join. She only wishes this kind of inclusion were the norm for transgender people who are currently serving in the armed forces.
Monica is the president of a tiny organization called Transgender Veterans of America. The group has made receiving medical care at veterans organizations a much more pleasant experience for many transgender vets, but the situation for their active-duty counterparts remains the same — if the military finds out, you’re gone.
The armed forces were applauded for promoting equality when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed in 2010. But transgender military members were still excluded, and now that the gay community has achieved equality in the armed forces, they feel that their previous momentum has slowed.
There are around 140,000 transgender veterans in the U.S., says Dr. Gary Gates of the Williams Institute, a research organization dedicated to law and public policy in sexual orientation and gender identity. He estimates that there are roughly 700,000 transgender people in the country, and a recent National Transgender Discrimination Survey showed that 20 percent of them have been a part of the military at some point. (In contrast, only 10 percent of the general population has served.)
There are two general reasons why the military won’t allow transgender people to serve, says Norman Spack of Boston Children’s Hospital, where he cofounded the gender management service clinic, the first to treat pubescent transgender people in the Western hemisphere. First, members of the military don’t want to be in a professional environment with anyone who is gender variant. Second, they don’t know how to classify a transgender person with respect to housing, rooming, or whatever else.Despite this, if the U.S. armed forces discover a transgender individual in their ranks, he or she is dishonorably discharged — in contrast with the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, and other nations where they can serve freely. Being transgender, according to the U.S. military, is a psychological disorder, and it renders an individual unfit for service.
Which is to say that many military members are afraid of what they don’t understand.
“Many people don’t necessarily come from very large cities or other parts of the country where there will not just be more understanding, but more tolerance of this sort of thing,” Spack said.
The struggle for equal rights for the transgender community in the armed forces will inevitably be compared to the effort to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but there are key differences.
A main concern for transgender veterans is that they simply don’t have enough numbers to drive a policy change. It’s estimated that transgender people make up 0.6 percent of the 21.8 million US veterans. That’s barely one in 200.
While overcoming the math may turn out to be a major obstacle, the transgender community also has a huge advantage that the gay community did not — they don’t have to deal with Congress. The policy barring transgender individuals from the armed forces is just that; a policy, not a law.
But Michael Segal, a neurologist who is also heavily involved with the military through the Advocates for ROTC program, cautions that a 180 degree change might not be the way to go.
“Even a lot of transgender people will say that they don’t think someone who’s actively going through a transition at that time should be in the military,” Segal said. “I don’t think you’re going to get the same pressure for an all-or-nothing thing.”
Whether or not the fight is for a complete change of policy, though, the transgender community’s struggle for equal rights in the military may begin far away from the armed forces.
Lesbian Couple Gets Engaged After Afghanistan Homecoming
Breakdown of the engagement from Reddit:
Me: “I’m shaking, and you’re shaking!” Her: “I know!” -couple spins, hugs, kisses…I can literally feel her heartbeat…- Me: “It is so good to see you, to touch you!” Her: “So, I have a question for you..” Me: “Of course babe, wha-…” Her: drops to one knee “Will you marry me?” Me: “YES!”
Click here to read more on this heartwarming story.
[Pictures courtesy of Natasha Martin]
U.S. forces may be departing Iraq, but don’t forgot those other service members serving overseas this holiday season!
HEY. there’s a woman named Nicole McCoy who has been raped four times during her services in the armed forces. she’s one of thousands, but when she tried to report it - something that most rape victims can’t even do - she found out that rapists in the military are NEVER required to put it on their discharge papers, or to enter the sex offender registry. this means that even if they’re reported, and even if they’re punished, they get a clean record as soon as they leave the army.
“When asked why sex offenders do not have to disclose on their discharge papers, some of the responses I was given were: 1) It will take too long to create a national database or 2) The military is going green and it takes too much paper to add an extra check box to discharge papers.”
according to an article from 2008, “only 181 out of 2,212 reports of military sexual assaults, or 8 percent, were referred to courts martial”. now we know that all 181 of those people who were even reprimanded were able be discharged with no fear of actual legal consequence.
Nicole got nothing but bad news when she tried to report her rapes, but she’s made a petition on Change.org to get the attention of the Department of Defense. she wants to make it a requirement to have rapists in the military registered as sex offenders, just like rapists everywhere else. you can check her petition out here. click the “About this petition” tab to read her story, and please take a minute to sign. i know how you feel about internet petitions, but Change.org has a good record. please show her your support.
President Barack Obama signs S.614, a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, in the Oval Office Wednesday, July 1, 2009. Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) was established during World War II, and from 1942 to 1943, more than a thousand women joined, flying sixty million miles of non-combat military missions. Of the women who received their wings as Women Airforce Service Pilots, approximately 300 are living today. Flanking the President are Bernice Falk Haydu, far left, Elaine Danforth Harmon, and Lorraine H. Rodgers, right. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) is at far right. Behind the President are active duty US Air Force pilots. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Soldados americanos voltando da guerra.
Saw this picture on imgur and just had to post it here, because this is without a doubt, one of the most badass women alive. Meet Katrina Hodge, a corporal in the British Army and Miss England 2009. According to Wikipedia, she enlisted back in 2004 after her brother challenged her to and earned the nickname “Combat Barbie” after showing up at her assigned unit wearing false eyelashes, kitten heels (whatever those are) and carry a pink suitcase. In 2005 her unit, the Royal Anglian Regiment, was deployed to Iraq, where she saved the lives of her comrades from a prisoner by wrestling not one, but two rifles from him and then knocking his ass out with her bare hands.
With her bare hands.
Then in 2009, she decided to compete in the Miss England competition to destroy stereotypes about women in the military. She didn’t win (she placed runner-up), but still became Miss England after the woman who did got into a fight and gave up the crown. While Miss England, Hodge convinced the people running the competition to ditch the bikini contest, because she felt that it was more important to be a role model than looking good in a bikini.
In 2010, she handed over the crown and returned to military service, being deployed to Afghanistan.
This woman is both a BAMF and a HBIC. Damn.