When I signed up for the Army during my senior year in high school, I wanted to break free of my protective parents. As an only child, they had high expectations of me, but ultimately wanted me to be independent and self-sufficient. I thought the Army would be a great way to have the freedom as an adult I didn’t have as a teen, plus a responsible means of traveling the world without my parents worrying about funding my educational goals. They already had a lot to deal with, as my mom’s progression with Multiple Sclerosis, a degenerative neurological condition, was starting to worsen.
I was enjoying the freedom, traveling opportunities, and my job as an Animal Care Specialist in my first overseas assignment in Germany. This was the life I was hoping for, and I was planning on making the Army a career.
But I discovered during a night of revelry that kissing one of my best friends was a earth-shattering experience. It wasn’t planned, it was just young adults messing around, but that night changed my life forever.
I realized that I liked women, and that was something incompatible with my military service in 1992. I still had 7 years left on my enlistment, and the military had a zero-tolerance policy on homosexual conduct.
I joined the US Army in September 2005, 12 years after “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was signed, the military’s former policy in which lesbian, gay and bisexual members could serve only if they hid their sexuality.
In the military, being your authentic self can be a challenge, and identifying as queer can be even more challenging. I served during the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” I learned fast that even though the policy changed, the people didn’t change.
I joined the military because I wanted to follow in my cousin’s footsteps in the service. I served in the U.S Army as a medic. I studied, I worked hard, I deployed, and I have provided care to soldiers in Afghanistan and Garrison.
I was verbally harassed by other soldiers from basic training all the way to my first unit. A Sergeant would put an M4 in my face and threatened me to sound off like a man; Sergeants and Officers would make sexual advances at me to the point where I was even sexually assaulted. I received a lot of inappropriate questions about who or what I was intimate with, if I was sleeping with so-and-so, and I was called gay because queer was an identity my peers did not understand.
We need you to serve alongside us this June in celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride Month. Together, we’ll honor the service of LGBTQ+ veterans and show our support for LGBTQ+ communities across the country.
The number of LGBTQ+ individuals that have served and continue to serve in our military is uncertain, but their commitment to serve here at home is not. Despite many serving under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and other institutional challenges, their contribution to our country continues in TMC blue.
The Mission Continues stands in solidarity with the transgender community as its members struggle for recognition as equal citizens. The Defense Department’s implementation of a ban on service by openly transgender Americans runs counter to our core values, our experience serving and supporting LGBTQ+ veterans, and to recent research on force readiness and troop cohesion.
The Mission Continues was founded with five core values, of which “respect” remains the standard for all who serve with us. In our words and deeds, the value explicitly exclaims: We believe everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and that they can make a difference.
Our experience is exactly that – through our work in under-resourced and under-represented communities, transgender veterans have been and continue to be critical leaders in the neighborhoods and cities that need their talents and skills.
Furthermore, we believe the ban is a step in the wrong direction and revives a devastating legacy of minimizing and dishonoring the service of LGBTQ+ veterans.
The Mission Continues will steadfastly maintain and defend our practices of inclusivity and affirming the rights, humanity and identity of transgender people and our LGBTQ+ veterans. We welcome and honor their service and authentic selves, knowing our communities and our country are stronger for their contributions.
I loved being a soldier and I am proud to be a transgender person. No one deserves to endure what I did.
I had the desire to join the Army as a result of two driving forces. The first, my grandfather was a disabled World War II Veteran who fell madly in love with my grandmother, an Army nurse who treated his wounds. As you can tell by that quick anecdote, military service was deeply rooted into my family’s framework.
The second motive to enlist was that I desperately needed to feel a connection to something. I needed some sense of belonging. I needed a community. My childhood was fairly grim and clouded. Being transgender but not being able to identify my feelings to an actual concept caused me to have crippling social anxiety and overwhelming sorrow.
I isolated myself, and fell into a deep, daunting, depression. It was as if I was drowning.
I needed to belong to a group and contribute to a cause larger than myself. I had no time to waste–I left home for the United States Army at the age of 17, a few days after my high school graduation.