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U.S.'s First Openly Trans Active Military Soldier Is Fighting For Equality

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Four years ago Sergeant Shane Ortega began his transition while serving in the U.S. Army. Before enlisting Ortega had served two tours with the United States Marine Corps, but upon joining the army he decided that it was time for him to start living his life honestly as an openly transgender man. Ortega underwent hormone therapy with the medical guidance of his own doctor and a military physician while enlisted and was able to maintain all of his professional duties.

In 2011 Ortega began living full time as a man and took all of the necessary steps to align his governmental documentation with his fully-realized identity. To the outside world Ortega had gradually become a fully capable and respected male member of the service. By the Army’s standards, however, Ortega’s gender identity presented a unique challenge.

CBazWVjUgAACNxoThe Army’s current views on transgender-identified people are complicated. Like all American military services, the Army still has provisions on the books that automatically label openly trans people from enlisting.

It typically assumes that all trans-people suffer from gender dysphoria, a form of mental anxiety associated with being profoundly at odds with one’s biological gender. Gender dysphoria is considered an adequate reason for dismissing officers, but Ortega has been repeatedly deemed not to suffer from the disorder by Army doctors.

Ortega’s been able to continue his service, but the Army’s views on his gender have led to a number of odd and ultimately discriminatory decisions about just how he can service. Technically speaking the Army consider Ortega to be a woman despite his assertions to the contrary. Following a routine physical it was determined that the amount of testosterone in Ortega’s bloodstream was abnormally high--a result of his hormone treatment. He was subsequently barred from his duties as a helicopter crew chief.

Rather than remain stuck in procedural limbo Ortega has taken the proactive route and is now agitating for the Department of Defense to make make its decision about his ability to serve clear. In recent months he has become more open about his fight for recognition within the military in hopes of demonstrating that trans people can be just as able and committed to the service as their cis counterparts.

“One thing my father always said was, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’ ” said Ortega said in an interview with the Washington Post. “I definitely wanted to be that change.”

In February Pentagon spokesmen Nate Christensen said that the Department of Defense’s medical requirements were under review and that potential revisions to its rules could determine the professional futures of other trans service members like Ortega. The exact timeframe for when the Pentagon’s review will be complete is unclear, and there’s been no word as to whether the review will even look into the DOD’s treatment of its trans population.

In the meantime Ortega, the military’s first and only officer to serve while openly trans, is stuck in a sort of no man’s land. As promising as his continued service is for where the American military is headed policy-wise, there’s no clear end in sight to when, if ever, he can be certain of his future with the Army.

“As I fight for my country in foreign lands, all I want it is to be able to serve openly while keeping the job that I love,” Ortega explained in a public statement. “I will continue to fight this fight for the 700,000 transgender veterans that have gone before me who were forced to choose between serving their country and being true to who they are."


U.S. Army Inches Closer to Opening the Door for Out Trans Troops

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An All-Army Activity, or ALARACT, notice distributed to U.S. field commanders on Friday stated that the power to initiate and finalize discharges of service members who are transgender has now been transferred from field commanders to the assistant secretary of the Army reports BuzzFeed.

Current Army policies state that transgender people are considered "administratively unfit" for military service. 

RobinsonAllyson Robinson, director of policy for the LGBT military advocacy organization SPARTA, applauded the slight change in direction, but conceded that more changes are needed for transgender service members to serve fully and comfortably without the looming threat of being discharged.

Said Robinson: 

"Today’s action by the Army helps over 6,000 transgender soldiers serving in silence. It also helps their commanders, who are increasingly stymied trying to apply 1970s medical policy to today’s Army.  

"While transgender service members welcome this step, they recognize it is only a stopgap measure aimed at making a failing policy fail less. What they and their commanders need is a comprehensive, Department-level policy review."

This step only affects the Army and doesn’t change the fact that transgender troops will continue to be discharged from the military under current Army policies. Pentagon Spokesperson Nate Christensen confirmed with BuzzFeed News in February that the Defense Department is conducting a "routine, periodic review of the Department’s medical accession policy," which are the medical standards for joining the military. However, Christensen noted that there is no specific review of the Department’s transgender policy, but that the review of the medical policy is broad.

Said Christensen: 

"We routinely review our policies to make sure they are accurate, up-to-date and reflect any necessary changes since the Department’s last policy review. The last review of this (medical policy) was conducted in 2011. The current periodic review is expected to take between 12-18 months; it is not a specific review of the Department’s transgender policy."

Defense Secretary Carter stated over the weekend that he's "very open-minded," with transgender service members openly serving in the military. "They can do what we need them to do for us...I don't think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them," said Carter.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said today that President Obama agrees with Carter and endorses his statements regarding the matter.


Trans Former SEAL Team 6 Member Kristin Beck Talks Chelsea Manning, Trans Troops, and Her Run for Congress: VIDEO

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Kristin Beck, the former Navy Seal who was a member of the elite Seal Team 6 and came out as transgender in her book Warrior Princess in 2013, sat down with Thomas Roberts on Out There this week to discuss why she is planning to run against Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House Minority Whip, in 2016. 

Beck also addressed the military's recent approval of Chelsea Manning's hormone treatment - with Beck stressing that while she supports the military's move, she continues to see Manning as more of a criminal than whistleblower (Beck has in the past called Manning "a traitor to me personally").

Later, Beck was asked to give her thoughts on Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's statement earlier this week that transgender troops should be allowed to serve.

Watch, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Trans Former SEAL Team 6 Member Kristin Beck Talks Chelsea Manning, Trans Troops, and Her Run for Congress: VIDEO" »


Obama Administration: Transgender People Should Not Be Banned From Military Service

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The Obama administration has voiced support for Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's statement that transgender people should not be automatically banned from service.

Speaking at a troop event in Kandahar, Afghanistan last Sunday, when questioned by Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jesse Ehrenfeld about his thoughts on “transgender service members serving in an austere environment like this here in Kandahar,” Carter replied: 

“And I'm very open-minded about...what their personal lives and proclivities are, provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That's the important criteria. Are they going to be excellent service members? And I don't think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”

6a00d8341c730253ef01a511840fc8970c-800wiFollowing Carter's comments, BuzzFeed reports that at the White House briefing yesterday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said:

“The president agrees with the sentiment that all Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to serve. And for that reason, we here at the White House welcome the comments from the secretary of defense. But in terms of — of additional steps that the Department of Defense will take to address this matter, I’d refer you to the secretary’s office.”

Ehrenfeld said that although he is pleased by the comments, he is now looking for action.

“Everyday the ban on transgender service continues, my shipmates colleagues are forced to serve alongside me in silence. I was pleased at Sec Carter’s response and am optimistic that soon this disparity in service will end. As a physician caring for transgender soldiers, the ban stands in the way of ensuring these individuals get the care they need.”

Last year, an independent panel led by former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders (above, right) and Rear Admiral Alan Steinman, recommended lifting the current ban on transgender service members.


75-Year-Old Trans Army Veteran Receives Medicare Funded Gender Reassignment: VIDEO

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Last May a panel of officials from the Department of Health and Human Services convened and decided that the department would, for the first time, include coverage for gender reassignment surgeries under Medicare. The decision came after Denee Mallon, a 75 year old army veteran, had her initial request to medically transition under Medicare denied. As a transwoman in her seventies, Mallon explained to the Health Department’s appeals board that she often felt as if ageism came into play when telling her story.

"When people ask if I am too old, it feels like they are implying that it's a 'waste of money' to operate at my age,” she explained. “But I could have an active life ahead of me for another 20 years."

In a recent MSNBC profile Mallon talks about her life as a transwoman seeking medical help at a time when trans-needs weren't well understood or accepted by the medical community. Like many trans-identified people, Mallon first began experiencing gender dysphoria at a relatively young age and fought to make sense of her situation for most of her life. Though she eventually came to identify as trans and sought to transition in the late-seventies, she was met with substantial social roadblocks.

Because Mallon still expressed interest in other women, her doctors reasoned, they would not approve of the surgeries they felt were elective. By the time Mallon attained the necessary doctor’s approval, she could no longer afford the surgeries. Months after the Health Department’s ruling, Mallon has finally had the surgery she’s fought for for decades.

“I feel congruent, like I’m finally one complete human being where my body matches my innermost feelings, my psyche,” she explained days after entering her post-surgery recovery. “I feel complete.”

Listen to Denee Mallon speak about her journey AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "75-Year-Old Trans Army Veteran Receives Medicare Funded Gender Reassignment: VIDEO" »


Trans-Rights Activists Expect Swift Change on Military Service

RobinsonThough significant inroads have been made with lesbian, gay, and bisexual members of the U.S. military, there are still no technical protections on the books for service members who identify as transgender. Advocates like Allyson Robinson, however, are confident that the organizations like the Air Force are primed to set off a new trend in light of comments made by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. Earlier this month Secretary James encouraged a review of the Air Force’s current policies that prohibit transgender members from serving:

“I would be shocked if Secretary Hagel doesn’t take just a moment in the weeks that he has left in office to make good on a promise that he made to the troops. He needs to order the review,” said Robinson. “We have their commitment to do that — we have the commitment of Secretary Hagel himself to review these policies. And, I should add, I am aware, from my conversations with leaders at the Pentagon, that the secretary views this, views those words, as a promise, as a commitment to the service members.”

Officially the White House has yet to release a position on whether or not trans-identified individuals are welcomed in the armed forces. When asked however, spokespeople for the White House pointed Buzzfeed to the Department of Defense.

“I can confirm that for you that no review of the department’s policy has been ordered,” asserted Pentagon spokesman Nate Christensen. He later guided the press to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s comments to The Washington Post this past May on Private Chelsea Manning in reference to his current thinking on the trans-service issue.

“I think that this period of Secretary Hagel — sort of, lame-duck period — represents that best opportunity that we’ve had so far to get [significant change] done,” Robinson explained, pointing to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s action on same-sex benefits at the end of his military career.

“He did that, I think primarily, because he felt it was his responsibility to take care of his troops. He also did it out of a sense of collegiality to the person who was going to follow him. He took, what were seen by some as difficult or contentious issues, and took them off the table so that his successor would be able to start with a clean slate.”


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