Military Families With Transgender Kids Fear for Future
In this Sept. 7, 2016, photo, Dr. David Klein, an Air Force Major and chief of adolescent medicine at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, left, speaks with Amanda Brewer and her daughter Jenn Brewer, 13.Jacquelyn Martin / AP
By Dawn Ennis
President Trump’s tweets banning transgender Americans from serving in the armed forces not only sent shockwaves from the barracks to Capitol Hill, they also rocked the families of service members whose military health care coverage provides essential care for their transgender children.
“I instantly started crying," Amanda Brewer told NBC Washington. Her son was reading her the tweets and asked, “What does that mean?'"
“We're one tweet away from your sister not getting to see the doctor,” Brewer told him.
Her 13-year-old daughter, Jenn, came out as transgender at age 11 but was at first denied coverage for her medical transition. In despair, she tried to kill herself.
"Nothing was working out for me," Jenn told The Associated Press in an interview last fall. "And I kind of felt suffocated by all of the rules that had been put in place for people like me."
That all changed shortly after June 2016, when the Pentagon lifted the ban on transgender troops serving openly. Now, Brewer, whose husband serves at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, said she's worried that Tricare, the military's health care system, will cut coverage of her daughter's treatment because of Trump's recent statements on Twitter.
“I just lost it,” Brewer said. She said her daughter asked, “'How long is it going to be before I don't have to go march or stand or talk, I'm just allowed to be?'"
When she came out, Jenn was beaten up so badly by school bullies that she suffered a concussion and missed weeks of class, her mom told NBC Washington. But she said beginning a medical transition has improved her daughter's life.
This week, Jenn got to meet another transgender girl who is just beginning her medical intervention. Her name is Blue, and she is 11. Like Jenn, she is transitioning from male to female.
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Blue lives at Ramstein Air Base in Germany where her father is stationed. Blue and her mother, Jessica Girven, are staying with the Brewers while in Washington, having made the trip across the Atlantic to get medical treatment her doctors at Ramstein would not provide.
Despite their refusal, the U.S. military’s health care plan does currently cover the cost of puberty blockers: $15,000. Cross-hormone treatment is also covered for those who elect to receive it: estrogen for transgender girls and testosterone for trans boys. Gender confirmation surgery is currently only covered for active duty personnel who identify as transgender.
Dr. David Klein, an Air Force major stationed at Fort Belvoir, is Jenn's doctor and the chief of adolescent medicine at the base. On Friday, he’ll administer the puberty blockers Blue has come so far to receive. This implant lasts two years and only delays the typical effects an adolescent’s own hormones have on their bodies during puberty, like secondary sex characteristics. In a child assigned male at birth, that includes increased body hair and deepening of the voice.
Blue is already at Tanner Stage 2, the second of the body's five development stages. Like the Brewers, the Girvens fear even the possibility of losing access to transition-related treatment.
“I am really afraid right now. I won’t lie ... She is already struggling," Girven wrote on Facebook, saying a puberty blocker would help delay her daughter's body from becoming overtly male.
"We absolutely must do better as a nation in ensuring all military families are receiving the care and support they've earned," Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partners Association, said.
“I am just in shock right now,” Girven told NBC News Thursday in a private message on Facebook. “All of this for the last couple days has me in shock.”
Girven, along with her daughter and mother, were on a personally guided tour of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday when she saw President Trump's tweets.
“I had to stop the tour,” she wrote on Facebook. “I lost my words. I was furious and scared and wanted to cry and puke.”
But they resumed the tour, and it led to some amazing meetings. Blue met House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Congressman Joe Kennedy and scores of other senators and representatives. Rep. Kennedy even invited Blue to accompany him to the House floor for a vote.
“Joe Kennedy III walked Blue around,” Girven wrote in a Facebook post, "and introduced her to the members of the armed services committee. He told them her story and told them if they take away transgender military medicine they are taking HER healthcare away."
Brewer, Girven and their daughters even spoke at a rally and marched on the White House to protest the proposed transgender military ban.