“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
John 15:13, New International Version
Wednesday morning, when President Trump used Twitter to announce his opinion on transgender troops, I was angry. I read the tweets from an AirBNB in Boston, six years removed from my military career and eight years out of rural Wisconsin. Reading those three messages reminded me of the person I hadn’t been in ten years – a pre-transition teen in Evangelical America. Growing up queer in a rural community meant two things: I wanted out, and I wanted respect. My upbringing stressed the importance of selfless service, the value of setting aside the ego and self for a larger cause. In hindsight, it is no surprise that I gravitated to the military.
Ten years ago, I was sixteen in rural Wisconsin. I was raised in the Evangelical church and believed my worth was based on my ability to be a good proper Christian woman. College was financially out of reach, and I desperately wanted to leave town.
Eight years ago, I graduated high school and raised my right hand. Too young to buy myself a beer but old enough to take a calculated risk, I swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic
Today, I am a Point Scholar and attend Williams College. It is easy to lose track of the world here in the mountains, surrounded by research and academics. It is easy to talk theory and ideas, sitting in Tunnel City coffee while summer rainstorms interrupt the afternoon. It is easy to get lost in chalkboard diagrams in the computer science department, talking with professors and fellow students. It is easy, here.
Without the military, I would not have this privilege. The Air Force was my ticket out of a rural, religious community. Military service offered structure, a sense of purpose, a paycheck, housing, food, healthcare, and benefits. I was able to transition one year after an honorable discharge, and have worked with transgender active duty and veterans since 2012. Being a Point Scholar, a non-traditional student, and advocate has introduced me to more people than I ever imagined. Working in diverse groups of people has instilled in me a deep drive to protect people who are singled out because of their differences.
While I will never encourage anyone to enlist – doing so was my best mistake and worst decision – I cannot be silent while a man who received five draft deferments uses his Twitter platform to publicly harass people who are twice as likely to serve in the military than a cisgender person. Transgender people face higher rates of homelessness and unemployment, are frequently denied access to necessary healthcare and housing, and all too often, are victims of hate crimes. Military service is a stable option available to people immediately after they turn eighteen – a recent Pew Research study found that less than 7 percent of enlisted personnel have bachelor’s degrees — which means enlisted troops have gainful, financially viable employment with a high school diploma or GED. Housing and food are provided, as well as healthcare, job training, and employment. Successful completion of an enlistment term means access to the GI Bill and Veterans Affairs health care.
In America, military service often means social mobility. With social mobility comes respect. As a transgender person, the most important thing to me is respect. Safety and dignity follow closely after, as does economic stability. As a student and a Point Scholar, I am incredibly fortunate. To take military service – an opportunity for social mobility – away and not replace it with a civilian equivalent, is beyond cruel. It is inhumane. Removing transgender people’s opportunity to serve and better their lives is tantamount to a death sentence in some parts of the United States.
On Wednesday, July 26th, the 45th President of the United States demonstrated exactly why transgender people deserve access to military service. Denying transgender people the same opportunities afforded their cisgender peers is dehumanizing. In three Tweets, Donald Trump told me that he didn’t believe I had worth, or that the futures of my friends and wingmen were worth supporting. For all of his talk about being “a man of the people”, Trump demonstrates no love for them, no drive to serve. Trump has shown himself to be deeply selfish, and despite his increasing dependence on the Evangelical conservative Christian electorate as his base of support, consistently shows himself to be ignorant of even the most basic tenets of self-sacrifice, from committing – and bragging about – sexual assault and turning immigrants away, to mocking a reporter and citing his favorite Bible verse as “an eye for an eye”.
It has been years since I called myself a Christian. But on Wednesday, even I could see how far Donald Trump’s priorities lie from self-sacrifice and selfless service.
Since an honorable discharge in 2011, Landon has devoted their time to helping LGBTQ troops and veterans. Landon has built an expansive network of nonprofits, veterans’ organizations, and individuals dedicated to supporting LGBTQ service members and veterans. Read more about Landon here.