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Four years after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” some transgender service members still feel neglected even as lesbian and gay service members feel more accepted, several troops said at a conference Monday.
“I have lived a compartmentalized life,” said Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Tammy Smith. “I literally had two sets of friends.”
Smith has served in the military since 1986 and said that her quality of life in the armed services following the repeal of DADT has significantly improved.
For her, the repeal was monumental not only because it overturned a 17-year policy that allowed gays to serve in the military only if they kept their sexual orientation secret, but because she was now able to pull her partner and family out of hiding as well.
Up until the repeal of that law, Smith said she had to pretend her family didn’t exist.
Afterward, Smith said, “We made a conscious choice that, of course, we would be ourselves authentically. When I came out as the first publicly known general, I didn’t come out as a statement of my sexuality, I came out as a statement of my family.”
President Obama last week declared June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. “I call upon the people of the United States to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people,” Obama said in making that announcement.
But former Navy SEAL Kristin Beck said there is one group in the “LGBT” community for which nothing has changed: the “T,” or the transgenders.
“I’m the T, I’m the left-out piece,” Beck said at an event at the Library of Congress hosted by the Veteran’s History Project.
After serving 20 years in the Navy, Beck said she left the force because she was not treated with respect. “The military is a microcosm of America; if you can’t accept that, go somewhere else,” she said.
Social scientists estimate that there are roughly 700,000 transgender American adults representing three-tenths of 1 percent of the nation’s adult population. A recent study done at the Palm Center by the Transgender Military Service Commission estimated about 15,000 transgender troops serve in uniform, including more than eight thousand on active duty.
Globally, 13 countries allow transgender military service including Australia, Canada, Israel, Spain, Thailand and the United Kingdom.
Joanna Eyles, who left the Army after serving six years as a satellite communications specialist, said she kept her gender identity as a transgender woman a secret for fear of humiliation. Even after the repeal of DADT, she said some senior service members remain closeted for the fear of losing the respect of other soldiers.
“Leading a double life is difficult,” she said.
In a volunteer military, some say the lack of full acceptance of LGBT troops limits the services’ access to experienced talent.
“We are competing with corporate America and government agencies for the very best talent,” Smith said. “I would look at this from a talent management/talent retention standpoint … how do we make sure we indeed have the best military possible and create access points for the best to make their way to the top?”