A transgender student in Texas is set to lose his military scholarship, putting into question whether he’ll be able to finish the college degree he recently started, after the Pentagon began implementing its new transgender military policy.
Critics say the new policy amounts to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule for trans service members.
“It’s sad to think that I will have to move my education around from place to place so I can afford it, when I won a scholarship to pay for my tuition to UT Austin,” Map Pesqueira told NBC News. “Without that scholarship, I will have to move back home and go to community college. There is no guarantee that I will be able to come back to Austin and continue my education here.”
Pesqueira, 19, is a freshman in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at the University of Texas at Austin. During his senior year of high school, he was awarded a three-year ROTC scholarship that was set to begin his sophomore year, and he had planned to enter the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant upon graduation. However, he was informed earlier this month that due to the new transgender military policy, which went into effect April 12, he would be disqualified from the program.
“Because I’ve already had top surgery, hormone replacement therapy, gender marker and my name changed, that automatically disqualifies me,” Pesqueira, who started to transition 18 months ago, said. “Basically, I’m so far into my transition, I’m unable to serve. That is what I was told.”
Pesqueira shared an email that he received from Lawrence Mullen, deputy chief of the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board. In the email, Mullen told Pesqeuira that the review board “will medically disqualify” him “using the new standards.” Mullen concluded his email by saying, “It has been an honor and a privilege to have worked with you on this journey since 6 Apr 2018.”
Pesqueira said he felt gutted after reading the message.
“I felt like he walked me into a room, sat me down, turned off the light, closed the door and left the room,” he said. “I felt so isolated in this huge dark room with all of this crazy information. I felt very alone in that moment.”
Under the new policy, which the Department of Defense has insisted is not a “ban,” currently serving transgender individuals who received a diagnosis of gender dysphoria prior to April 12 may continue to serve in their preferred gender, receive hormone treatments and undergo gender-affirming surgery. As of April 12, anyone with gender dysphoria who is taking hormones or has already undergone a gender transition will not be allowed to enlist. Further, any currently serving troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria will have to serve in their sex as assigned at birth and will be barred from taking hormones or getting gender-affirming surgery.
Army Major Robert Carter, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Cadet Command, confirmed in an email to NBC News that Pesqueira was disqualified from the ROTC program because he did not meet the medical requirements.
“When cadets are accepted into the ROTC program, it is on a conditional basis,” Carter explained. “First, they have to gain entrance into the university of their choice. Second, they have to pass the Department of Defense Military Physical that determines the eligibility of the individual to complete the required training.”
“In order for them to come in and successfully serve, they have to adhere to the standards of their associated biological sex,” he added.
Pesqueira said that he applied for the scholarship under his “birth name and biological gender.” After he was awarded the scholarship, he legally changed his name and gender marker and informed the Defense Department that he did so.
“I enrolled and started ROTC classes at UT under my current name and gender marker,” Pesqueira said.
Pesqueira said he is not giving up hope on his dream of attending the university and serving in the Army. To raise the money needed to make up for the loss of his scholarship, he has started his own online fundraiser, which had reached more than $12,000 as of Wednesday evening.
“Since my scholarship is now invalid, I can no longer afford to attend without financial assistance,” Pesqueira explained on the GoFundMe page. “I received little financial aid from the university despite having a single mother with a low-income and struggled to pay my own way through my first year. Until now, I remained under the impression that my scholarship would take care of my remaining 3 years, but that is no longer the case.”
Victoria M. Rodríguez-Roldán, senior policy counsel at the National LGBTQ Task Force, said that Pesqueira’s story “represents why the ability to serve in the military is so important for the trans community.”
“Because of the marginalization and discrimination faced by trans people across the workplace and so many other spaces, for good or bad, the military is often a route out of poverty or for financing of school that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford,” she said.
“Map’s experience, as well as that of so many who dedicated their career choices to serving in the military and now have been cheated out of those prospects are representative of the real-world harm that Trump does to the community when he enacts conservative policies through his Twitter thumbs,” she added, referring to President Donald Trump’s July 2017 tweets where he first introduced the new policy.
While the new transgender military policy was implemented on April 12, there are still four lawsuits pending against it. Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the LGBTQ advocacy groups fighting the policy, said the legal battle is “far from over.”
When asked if he’s considering legal action against the Defense Department, Pesqueira said “it hasn’t been ruled out.”