I’ve been dreaming about military service for as long as I can remember. I grew up and still live in Lisbon, Ohio, a tight-knit community with strong connections to the armed forces. I understand what it means to serve my country — to commit your life to and fight for something bigger than yourself. It’s not only my dream career, it’s part of who I am.
I’ve been training for years to achieve this goal. I meet every physical fitness requirement and am fully qualified for service. After graduating college, I started working with a local recruiter, and then enrolled in Army ROTC while starting a graduate program focused on global security. But one year ago, everything changed.
I understand what it means to serve my country — to commit your life to and fight for something bigger than yourself.
On April 12, 2019, the federal government’s new policy banning transgender Americans like me from serving in the military officially went into effect.
More than anything, I felt frustrated and disappointed. I had put in so much hard work and made so many sacrifices to participate in ROTC, just to be told I was no longer eligible to finish the program. And I was disappointed not only for myself, but in general that this administration was still pushing so adamantly to keep perfectly qualified, capable and patriotic transgender individuals from being able to serve in the military.
While some of my friends headed off to basic training and others deployed, I was left at home to fight a different battle. I have remained vigilant in my physical training and preparation and am continuing my master’s program at Kent State.
In the year since the ban took effect, I’ve found another way to serve my community — as a substitute teacher — and to serve my family by helping out on our farm. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the school where I teach, I took a temp job at my local Walmart to make ends meet, and to support my community as best I can by keeping store shelves stocked with essential items. But when I hear the president talk about deploying troops to help in crisis areas, the feelings of frustration and sadness rise up again.
While I am still grappling with how this ban has derailed my life, I refuse to give up on my dream. And I will continue to fight until every American who meets military standards has an equal opportunity to serve.
There is nothing about transgender Americans like myself that makes us any less qualified. Dedicated transgender service members have proved themselves capable of serving on the front lines and defending our nation with honor. But this isn’t just an issue of personal frustration. The transgender ban is not only unfair to transgender troops; it also undermines national security by discharging trained, dedicated service members and depriving the military of well-qualified recruits.
The military has long faced recruitment challenges, but the situation is growing more dire under the current pandemic. The military is struggling to reach new service members as enlistment stations shutter, and has even paused training for new recruits as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19. Despite this, our military is being asked to step in to help stem the impacts of the pandemic. Responding to a crisis of this magnitude means we need all qualified hands on deck. It is inexcusable that the military has spent the last year turning away qualified recruits like me, and threatened trained and dedicated transgender service members with discharge.
I’ve always believed that the military is built on fundamental values of fairness and of respecting people for what they can do.
I’ve always believed that the military is built on fundamental values of fairness and of respecting people for what they can do, regardless of their background or who they are. The majority of Americans across the political spectrum already understand this — and 71 percent support open service by transgender people. In my conservative, rural community in Ohio, teachers, coworkers and neighbors with a broad range of political views have all told me they think I should have the same opportunities as anyone else.
And according to a poll funded by the Department of Defense itself, 66 percent of active-duty service members across all four branches support the service of transgender people. That’s not just a data point — I’ve heard similar things from former ROTC friends who are now serving.
For more than a century, the military has worked toward abolishing discrimination based on race, national origin, religion and sexual orientation in their ranks, and each time, that has made our country safer and stronger. I am confident that this ban, too, will be abolished in the end. So as the courts weigh the ultimate fate of the ban and move toward trials in the fall, I will continue to train and maintain my fitness, I will continue to study and I will continue to speak out so that one day I can say I am proud to wear the uniform of the greatest military on earth.