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September 05, 2017


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#ScholarlyAction: Point Alum Ryan Karnoski’s lawsuit against Transgender...

September 05, 2017

Photo: Plaintiffs Point Alumni Ryan Karnoski, Staff Sergeant Cathrine “Katie” Schmid and Drew Layne.

A response from Ryan Karnoski, a 2013 Point Foundation Alum who is the first named plaintiff in a lawsuit against Donald Trump and his ban on transgender people joining the military, filed by Lambda Legal on Monday, August 28, 2017.

When I was a kid, I knew that I wanted to do a job where my role was to help people. I was drawn to social work because of its core ethics and values. I saw (and still see) it as an intersection between the type of allied healthcare work that I wanted to do, and the type of moral reasoning that I wanted to take with me to work each day. As I got older, I watched my friends and cousins turn eighteen and enlist in the armed forces, and as I approached my senior year of high school, I began applying to service academies. However, the still-active “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy weighed heavily on my mind, and as an out member of the LGBT community, I shifted my resolve to the University of Washington. There, I earned both my Bachelor of Social Welfare and Gender, Women, Sexuality Studies degree, as well as my Master of Social Work degree, with a concentration in Children Youth and Families.

One of my closest friends in my social work program was a Navy veteran, whose father had served before her. We occasionally spoke about her experiences while on active duty, and she created a space for me to reflect on how my identity and values were shaped by watching the veterans in my family serve their country and return to their communities. We also spoke about LGBT identity, choosing to be “out”, and how challenging it can be to share the most personal aspects of your identity. This friend passed away this winter after succumbing to her third battle with cancer. Since that time, I have thought long and hard about the power that lies in the vulnerability which is created when you allow other people to glance upon the intimate aspects of your humanity.

On Monday morning, the news broke that Lambda Legal is representing me and two other individual plaintiffs, as well as Human Rights Campaign and Gender Justice League, against the president, Donald Trump. When I think about how I want to be seen as a transgender man who aspires to commission into the military, I want to offer people glimpses of my humanity. I want them to picture a sixteen-year-old, purposefully running up hills in military surplus shorts. I want them to picture recruiting pamphlets squirreled into a backpack, and the haunting “Night Stalkers Don’t Quit” magnet stuck on my mom’s fridge after my cousin was killed in Afghanistan. I want them to picture somebody who likes to keep their personal life personal, and their professional life professional, and doesn't particularly like to draw attention to himself. A human being who likes baseball, camping, and the Fourth of July, and who doesn't typically announce himself as transgender outside of a Human Resources or doctor's office. In most respects, a pretty normal guy.

When awoke to the New York Times article on Donald Trump's tweets on the “transgender ban” in the military, I felt gutted. Then, I thought about the legacy of my family members and friends who have served their country honorably, and about all of the individuals who raised their right arm and volunteered to knowingly put themselves in harm’s way.

I thought about what it means not to quit.


This post was written by Point Alum Ryan Karnoski.

Ryan Karnoski was a 2013 Point Scholar and studied Spanish and Social Welfare at the University of Washington. Ryan is now a mental health clinician based in Seattle, WA. Read more about Ryan here.

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