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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has said we’ve reached an era in which transgender service members could serve openly in the military. But until that day comes there’s an estimated 15,000 transgender service members protecting our country who can’t serve as their authentic selves.
“These people have selflessly signed up to give their lives in defense of others,” said Sgt. Shane Ortega, a helicopter crew chief in the Army’s 25th Infantry Division.
Sgt. Ortega has served in two combat tours to Iraq and one tour to Afghanistan. He entered the service as woman and today he identifies as a man.
He’s been assigned to desk duty since a medical exam found he had high levels of testosterone. Because of outdated military policies the Army still sees him as a woman and makes him wear a woman’s “dress blues” for official occasions.
He has been barred from flight duties because the Defense Department’s medical standards declare transgender people to have a “psychosexual condition” and boxes them in with voyeurists and exhibitionists.
Because of the medical standards the Veterans Affairs currently can not provide the estimated 15,000 trans service members transition therapy.
Until the Pentagon officially changes its policy, Sgt. Ortega said, it should “issue a statement that says, ‘While we we are waiting, you will treat these people with dignity and respect.’” He added “current transgender personnel shouldn’t have to wait to begin receiving appropriate health care.”
Sgt. Ortega began to actively advocate for changes to military policy six years ago, when he co-founded a transgender military support group and joined the military freedom coalition, which advocates for the fair treatment of all LGBT service members.
Transgender Americans are twice as likely to serve in the military than the general population, according to The National Transgender Discrimination Survey published in 2011 by the gay rights organization The National LGBTQ Task Force.
At least 18 countries allow transgender service members to serve openly, including some of the United States’ closest allies: England, Canada, France, Israel and Australia.
Video segment produced by Evelyn Baker