Will transgender people be denied chance to serve in the military?

BATTLE CREEK, MICH. - The Army was something Anastasia Rathbun of Battle Creek knew she wanted to be a part of since she was six years old.

"I always thought it was very cool," Rathbun said. "I wanted to be part of something bigger."

When she was six, Rathbun went by the name Andrew. She said she's known she is a woman her whole life. She realized her dream of being a soldier in 2009.

The opportunity for people who, like Rathbun, are transgender, to serve in the military is being called into question. And they have something to say about it.

President Donald Trump, with no notice, tweeted this July 26:

"After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

This not only caught the Pentagon off guard when it was announced, but it was also a surprise to transgender people who served in the military previously.

Rathbun, who enlisted as Andrew Rathbun, served in the Army from 2009 to 2011 as a member of the Second Stryker Cavalry Regiment, stationed in Germany.

In 2010, she was an infantry mortarman and was sent to combat in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Rathbun, a Jonesville native, credits the Army with giving her the confidence to come out, but not until after her service.

"I knew before I served that I wanted to transition," Rathbun said. "When I was in, you couldn't be openly bi or anything so I kept it super-discrete. There are a lot of curious or LGBT-friendly service members, but they all are super-discrete about it."

After Rathbun publicly identified herself as a woman in 2012 , she heard from some former comrades.

"I got a Snapchat from some of my platoon members a few months ago, and they were actually cool with me," Rathbun said. "That was surprising."

On Facebook, Rathbun posted her thoughts about Trump's proposed ban because, she said, she was getting so many questions about it.

"When it comes to the disruption effect it would have that can be solved in tons of ways like teaching the service members to have an open mind, having more LGBT-friendly units, or just treating the 'disruption' it causes as any other case of similar circumstances," Rathbun wrote.

Rathbun said she expects the cost for hormone treatments to be around $100 a month for the relatively small number of soldiers who would need them.

"I can't control what I feel, and neither can you or anyone else," Rathbun wrote. "When I was in Afghanistan I dealt with a lot of torn emotions and I didn't let it effect how I did my job."

Trump's ban isn't in place currently. The White House and Pentagon issued memos that give Defense Secretary Jim Mattis until Feb. 21 to figure out a plan to implement the ban.

Republican U.S. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine, and Democratic Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Jack Reed of Rhode Island have, according to a Sept. 15 news release from Gillibrand, introduced a bill that would stop the Department of Defense from discharging current members of the military because of their gender identity.

"When less than one percent of Americans are volunteering to join the military, we should welcome all those who are willing and able to serve our country,” McCain said in the release.

The Pentagon on Sept. 15 confirmed to reporters that transgender members who leave the service before the ban goes into effect can re-enlist during that time and current members will continue to receive medical treatment.

Several organizations have filed lawsuits against the ban, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, OutServe Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and civil rights law group Lambda Legal.

The makeup of the armed forces has changed over the years. President Harry Truman desegregated the services in 1948.

President Bill Clinton made "don't ask, don't tell" into law, which punished those who publicly identified as gay or bisexual with discharge from the military, but also took steps to protect them from harassment.

That law ended in 2011 under President Barack Obama, and gay and bisexual people can openly serve. Transgender people can as well, unless the Trump ban takes effect.

"This form of blatant discrimination will not be tolerated by our community and Battle Creek Pride will continue to fight for the rights of our transgender family," Battle Creek Pride President Deana Spencer said. "They do not deserve this kind of treatment simply because of who they are."

Battle Creek Pride provides resources for LGBTQ individuals and allies, as well as holding meetings, support groups and gatherings such as movie nights.

Veterans who need such resources can also turn to the Battle Creek VA Medical Center.

The Battle Creek VA was one of two hospitals in Michigan this year to be named by the Human Rights Campaign as a Leader in LGBTQ Healthcare Equality. The facility hosts an LGBTQ support group.

In a statement to the Enquirer, Department of Veterans Affairs Press Secretary Curt Cashour said there has been no change in policy.

"We provide care, benefits and other VA services to all veterans, including transgender veterans," Cashour said.

For those who are still having dreams of where their lives can go, whether it's the Army or somewhere else, Rathbun said parents should be open-minded.

"You can prevent a lot of heartache if you talk to them, and they come out to you and you start the transition process earlier," she said.

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© 2017 Battle Creek Enquirer


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