Commentary

Transgender service members passed the test

Since our nation’s inception, every marginalized group incorporated into the military has been tested. Each faced prejudicial barriers questioning their patriotism and capability. African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities faced segregation and overt racism. Women were told they were incapable of serving in combat, even while they were in the middle of it. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual troops had their integrity tested when told to lock their authenticity deep in a closet.

For the past three and a half years, transgender service members were tested on their resiliency and faithfulness. Declared a disruptive burden on the military that could not be accepted or allowed by their own commander in chief, we were caught between a military that valued our proven capability for mission accomplishment and an administration set on erasing us. Our continued existence was resistance. Buoyed by our oath, sworn to the Constitution and the ideals it represents, and the necessity to continually prove our worth, we laced up our boots and got the job done. We were determined to pass the test and come out stronger.

As the leadership team for SPART*A, an advocacy, education, and support organization for transgender service members, and as active-duty troops ourselves, the test was magnified. Being the public face of an organization that opposed current policy, even on a non-partisan issue, was a risky proposition. Despite the risks, we thrived. Bree transitioned while in command, Emma returned to service as a judge advocate, and Blake was selected for promotion to commander. Pushing back on this policy was not something we did lightly, but we believe in the maxim Sen. Carl Schurz spoke in 1872: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Convinced by thousands of examples of honorable service, we took a principled stand to set it right. We each believe in the value of our service, that of every other trans troop, and what those yet to serve will bring to the military.

Philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that only through the collision with error can the truth be refined. Mill said that if someone disputes our position we should “thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them, and rejoice that someone will do for us what we otherwise would have to do for ourselves, with much greater labour.” (On Liberty, 1859) Because of that, and perhaps ironically, we’d like to thank President Trump. He directed a spotlight onto the accomplishments of transgender service members, dramatically swayed public and military opinion in our favor, and made us hone the arguments countering his position.

The administration trotted out the same charges levied against every previous minority group: unit cohesion disruption, cost, and inability to accomplish assigned missions. Just as everyone beforehand, when faced with those recycled fallacies, transgender troops were steadfast. Relying on data and the power of our examples, we invalidated the administration’s assertions.

Capt. Alivia Stehlik volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan and treated over 1,700 patients. Lt. Kris Moore teaches leadership at the Naval Academy. Master Sgt. Jamie Hash was promoted twice and won Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year. Sgt. Aaron Wixson teaches basic marksmanship to Marines. Maj. Ashley Davis coordinated the intercept of Russian aircraft entering U.S. airspace on five separate occasions. These are just a handful of the capable leaders whose transitions were welcomed by their units. We can point to any of them and say, “They passed the test.”

In a way, our test ended with President Biden’s just announced executive order directing the military to return to a policy of inclusive service. It removes the official stigma unfairly hung on so many of us despite our accomplishments and allows thousands to reach their full potential in service. We are also thrilled by the opportunity that so many otherwise qualified Americans will now have joining the military.

Taken another way, our test is not over. There’s nothing to prevent a future administration from again reversing course on the value of our service. We urge Congress to pass legislation guaranteeing equal opportunity to serve for all qualified Americans. Regardless, we will take these four years as a continuation of our test, and we expect to graduate with honors. We will show, by the power of our examples and our dedication to duty, that a military without transgender people should be just as unconscionable as a military without African Americans, women, or LGB people.

Bree Fram is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, SPART*A vice president, and co-author of the forthcoming book “With Honor and Integrity: Transgender Military Personnel in Their Own Words.” Emma Shinn is a captain in the Marine Corps and president of SPART*A. Blake Dremann is a Navy lieutenant commander, current board member, and former president of SPARTA. The views are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Navy, or the Defense Department.

Editor’s note: This is an op-ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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