Pentagon To Release New Policy For Transgender Service Members
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Any day now, we're expecting the Pentagon to make a statement on troops who are transgender. The military is following White House orders to clear barriers to service. And that could include allowing people who are transgender to serve openly.
A UCLA study estimates over 15,000 transgender people currently serve in the military. But they're really caught in limbo. Trans troops are not eligible for promotion. And their colleagues are required to refer to them by their gender assigned at birth. People who transitioned before trying to enlist are considered unfit for service. One person following this issue closely is U.S. Army Captain Jennifer Peace who transitioned while serving. She was at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Seattle, Wash., when our colleague Steve Inskeep spoke with her.
STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Welcome to the program.
JENNIFER PEACE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: What is at stake for you here?
PEACE: So I've been in the military for almost 12 years now. And I've given a lot of my life over to the service. This is something that I've always wanted to do and something that I've enjoyed every day that I have been privileged enough to do it. So this decision coming from the Pentagon is really my future in the military.
INSKEEP: How far were you into those 12 years when you realized you were transgender?
PEACE: It was when I was in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012. And while I was there, I had a very difficult time with the extended period in close quarters in male-segregated facilities. And I started develop a lot of anxiety and a lot of issues. And it was really when I returned home that I found the transgender community and realized that I needed to transition in order to take care of myself.
INSKEEP: We're referring to you as she. Does the Army do that?
PEACE: The Army does now. And that is a fairly recent change. That was a point of contention. And I had actually received numerous counseling statements that I needed to correct people to male pronouns. And it really created an uncomfortable situation where people almost don't want to interact with you because they understand that that's upsetting for you and that's not something that you want. But then they also look at you and see you as a female soldier, and so it's uncomfortable for them. Initially, I was outed to my unit while I was on leave. And I came back to a lot of rumors and a lot of speculation, a lot of crazy ideas.
INSKEEP: I can tell listening to you that you're - as you would expect of someone in the Army, you're very positive. You're forward-thinking. You're optimistic. What, though, is a big challenge of being transgender in the military? What's hard about it?
PEACE: Once the military makes this change, I don't think it'll be any more difficult to be in the military than it would be out. And in some ways, I think that allowing trans people to serve in the military is actually going to make it so much better for them in some ways than outside of the military because you don't have to worry as much. Now you're going to be federally protected from discrimination. You're going to be given access to health care, a lot of things that people on the outside still struggle with.
And so there are challenges to being in the military. And with the ban, there have been challenges to being trans in the military because of the policies that have been in place. But once those bans are lifted, I don't see any additional challenges of serving in the military as a trans service member than anywhere else.
INSKEEP: We know that your wife has been very supportive. What have your kids thought about all this?
PEACE: When I first came out to my kids, my oldest daughter just accepted it. There was no question. It was sort of, like, OK. That - what are we having for dinner? Like, it wasn't even a thought.
And my middle child, I think, had some concerns about me as a parent. Would I still be there? Would I still love them? And that was over two years ago. And I am so much closer to them now than I ever was before. We spend time together. We have an amazing relationship, where prior to transition, I was a lot angrier. I was a lot more distant. I was not as good of a parent as I am now. So I think all three of my kids would absolutely say that that they prefer me on this side of transition than before.
INSKEEP: Captain Jennifer Peace, thanks very much.
PEACE: Thank you.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly say Joint Base Lewis-McChord is in Seattle. In fact, it is about 50 miles south of that city.]
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Correction June 30, 2016
We incorrectly say Joint Base Lewis-McChord is in Seattle. In fact, it is about 50 miles south of that city.