AILSA CHANG, HOST:
President Biden has signed an executive order ending the Trump administration's ban on transgender people serving in the military. Starting immediately, service members cannot be discharged or denied reenlistment because of their gender identity. And the order calls for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to reexamine the records of service members who may have been disciplined under the prior policy. We turn now to Lt. Col. Bree Fram. Fram serves in the Air Force and is vice president of SPARTA, a transgender military organization. We spoke back in 2019.
BREE FRAM: Hello. It's wonderful to be back.
CHANG: It's wonderful to have you back. I want to start by revisiting something that you and I talked about back in 2019. You were able to continue serving in the Air Force because the Trump administration allowed trans service members to continue serving only if they received a diagnosis for gender dysphoria from a military medical professional. This is a diagnosis that you received. But back when we talked, you said that it didn't feel good to be going through your own transition on someone else's timeline. How are you feeling now?
FRAM: I feel fantastic. It turned out to be the absolute right thing for me at the time.
CHANG: Oh, how interesting. So having to accelerate your transition in some ways was actually a blessing in retrospect.
FRAM: It was. Even though I'm still not comfortable with having that diagnosis because it implies challenges, some difficulties that I'm having, I have taken what I got from it and run with it. And authenticity is a powerful thing.
CHANG: Well, you know, there are obviously trans service members who never received an official diagnosis from the military prior to the ban, maybe because they weren't ready or maybe because getting a diagnosis just wasn't available to them at the time. In your work with SPARTA, have you talked with people going through that? Like, can you tell us what the time since has been like for them?
FRAM: Yeah, what a challenge it's been for the past 3 1/2 years for trans service members who weren't able to come out. Providing them with the medical treatment recommended by their doctor as medically necessary makes them a better soldier, sailor, airman, marine, guardian or Coast Guardsmen. This is a gift to those folks who have had to serve in silence. They can come out now, reach their full potential and be what the military needs them to be.
CHANG: Well, not only does President Biden's executive action allow for them to serve openly now, this action also calls for the immediate identification and review of the records of service members who may have been affected by the ban. Can you talk about what that means, practically speaking?
FRAM: That's an excellent question because we don't know how many people may have lost their careers over this. What we believe is most people left because they simply didn't want to continue to serve if they were going to be denied being their authentic self.
FRAM: But we don't track that data. The military doesn't ask, are you leaving because you are trans? What there will likely be is people trying to get back in. I know many of those folks right now that are prior service and want to serve again.
CHANG: Well, this ban was enacted by a presidential memo from President Trump, and now that presidential memo has been overturned by Biden's executive action. Obviously, real legislation would have a much more permanent effect. So I am curious. What steps are you and your fellow service members taking now to get this passed by Congress?
FRAM: The primary thing we're going to continue doing is leading with the power of our example. You can look at so many stories over the past four years of transgender service members serving with honor, serving in combat zones and doing exactly what the military needs them to be. We need legislative action to prevent a future administration from flipping the switch, and we'll speak with legislators at any opportunity we can about the value of the opportunity for service.
CHANG: In the meantime, I know that your organization, SPARTA, works with potential recruits who are, perhaps, transgender people who have considered joining the military but weren't sure how friendly the military would be about their gender identity. What is your message to them now?
FRAM: My message to them is, we need you. Our future wars are going to be fought and won with brain power. And if those brains just happen to be in trans bodies, the military should want them.
CHANG: Air Force Lt. Col. Bree Fram, thank you so much for coming back.
FRAM: It's been my pleasure.
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