By Wesley Juhl
I think a lot of people assumed the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law paved the way for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to serve openly in the U.S. military. I certainly did.
But I was wrong.
People who are transgender are still banned from the U.S. armed forces.
“Perspectives on Transgender Military Service from Around the Globe,” put on Monday in conjunction with the San Francisco-based Palm Center at the ACLU’s Washington headquarters, was an eye-opening experience.
Soldiers from the U.S. shared stories about facing discrimination in the armed forces. Their experiences were a sharp contrast to those of troops from other countries.
Capt. Sage Fox, enlisted in the Army in 1993 as a man. She served with the Special Forces and worked at the Pentagon.
While she was deployed in Kuwait in 2012, she realized she needed to transition into a woman. She took time off to change genders, and when the Army called on her to come back, she laid everything out for them.
Her case went up the chain of command, and it fell on her immediate superiors to decide what to do. Fox said she was told they needed her skills, and she was invited to come back as a woman.
“The very next day I went back as a female officer,” she said.
But two weeks later they transferred her to inactive reserve. Her phone calls and emails asking for an explanation went unanswered.
“It was devastating for me to get pushed out like that,” she said.
Squadron Leader Catherine Humphries, of the Royal Australian Air Force, is on the other side of the spectrum.
She joined the RAAF in 1997 as a man and worked as a ground defense officer and instructor.
The Australian armed forces were OK with her transition, but for a while she could not work in her old job.
It wasn’t because she is transgender. It was because Australia did not allow women to serve in combat roles. That ban was lifted shortly afterward, and Humphries went right back to work.
When she was deployed in Afghanistan, she said she received mixed reactions. She said, however, that the Australian military has robust diversity policies for addressing harassment and giving peer support.
In all of the countries that allow transgender people to serve openly, leadership was named as the most crucial component of diversity.
I think it’s time that the media also stepped up to be a leader.
Earlier this fall, I heard a lawyer who is a Supreme Court expert say same-sex marriage is the biggest civil rights issue of our time.
Hearing the stories of men and women – devoted to their country and barred from serving it – makes me think it’s not even the biggest LGBT issue of our time.
Many trans people face more violence than gays and lesbians.
The Transgender Violence Tracker project aggregates data about anti-transgender violence. The group says people who are transgender are about 1.5 percent of the world’s population, yet they are about 400 times more likely to be assaulted or murdered than any other group.
In the first four months of 2014, 102 trans people were murdered around the world, according to TVT.
Nearly 10 percent of all reported violence was suffered by young people who defy gender norms – including a 3-year-old Oregon boy beaten to death by his mother for being too effeminate.
Trans people also face more economic obstacles.
Though President Barack Obama signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against federal employees based on gender identity, it is often hard for trans people to find jobs and it is OK to fire an employee for being transgender in most states.
Trans people also face restrictions on their right to vote because of ID laws.
The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates 25,000 people could encounter difficulties when they head to the polls this year because many transgender people have government-issued IDs with different names, pictures or gender markers. Many states have strict ID requirements to vote, and many people have a difficult time updating their identification.
I’m not saying it’s the media’s job to advocate causes. But I do believe it’s the media’s job to tell stories and stimulate conversations.
I firmly believe the press has an ethical obligation to provide inclusive and accurate coverage of under-represented communities.
And it may be a good idea for the press to get a jump on these and other transgender issues, because they will make headlines in the future.