After President Trump’s surprise announcement Wednesday barring transgender people from serving “in any capacity“ in the military, one prominent transgender airman said he’s more determined than ever to continue serving in the Air Force.
“I would like to see them try to kick me out of my military,” Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland said in an interview with Air Force Times. “You are not going to deny me my right to serve my country when I am fully qualified and able and willing to give my life.”
Other transgender service members expressed the same determination to stay in uniform in interviews with Military Times.
“I will continue to report for duty in the uniform of the day until I am forced to receive my DD214” discharge papers, said Sgt. Jack Schuler a transgender man and Army reservist who is a chemical operations specialist. He previously served in the Marine Corps.
“I love serving this country and its people,” he said. ”I love being a part of this military family. My dream is to retire after a long career. I’m not going anywhere, anytime soon.”
A Marine military police officer who is a transgender man (he asked that his name not be used), pointed out that he’s served honorably through two deployments. He’s never endangered his comrades, he said, or made anyone else “conform to my world view.” All he asked for, he said, was the same respect he gave others.
“I have never described myself as trans; I’m a mother----ing Marine,” the corporal said. “That‘s all that matters. Don’t tarnish my title with your bigotry and fear of the unknown.”
It is unclear exactly how President Trump’s new policy will affect transgender people already serving. In a short statement, the Pentagon said it will work with the White House and “will provide revised guidance to the department in the near future.”
Ireland, a security forces airman who deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, has been one of the most prominent transgender people in the military since he first shared his story publicly in 2015, three years after he began his transition to a man. Ireland also consulted with the Air Force last year as it drafted its guidance for how it will incorporate transgender airmen into its ranks.
Ireland is married to a transgender woman who serves in the Army, Cpl. Laila Villanueva, and the two appeared in a 2015 New York Times documentary, “Transgender, at War and in Love.”
Ireland, who is currently taking part in security forces training, said he had no idea at all that the change was coming. The policy change was especially a surprise, he said, considering the support Defense Department leadership has showed for allowing transgender people to serve.
“For the president to deny an able-bodied, fully qualified person the inherent right to raise their right hand and serve their country, potentially giving their own life for our freedoms, is doing this country an injustice,” Ireland said. “I would personally love for my president to meet me so I can tell him about myself, and the 15,500 honorably-serving transgender military members that are fighting right now for their liberties and their country.”
Schuler said that re-imposing a ban on transgender service members is likely to be counterproductive.
“For every qualified, fit to serve transgender person lost, there will have to be another person recruited and trained to replace them,” Schuler said. “Given the small number of transgender service members and the fact that not every transgender person opts for full or any medical reassignment, more will be spent imposing the ban than would be saved in treatment costs.”
Capt. Jacob Eleazer of the Kentucky Army National Guard said he hasn’t heard anything yet on whether his status will change.
“I imagine military leadership, like me, is still reacting to the news and trying to figure out exactly what bearing this is going to have,” Eleazer said, speaking for himself and not for the military. “I remain hopeful that it’s possible that with some wisdom and guidance that things could change, but I’m kind of an optimist, so we’ll see how it rolls out.”
Eleazer, who is a doctoral candidate in psychology, hopes to secure a military clinical internship as part of his plan to become a military psychologist. However, transferring to a medical position is technically considered a new commission, so Eleazer has been waiting for the Defense Department to release its policy on inducting transgender service members.
Eleazer said his unit has been supportive of him serving as an openly transgender soldier, and recently returned from annual training with his unit.
“My commander set a very clear tone of dignity and respect,” Eleazer said. “My gender marker is not updated in the military medical system even though it’s been updated on my birth certificate for years now. Because of that, I still have to follow female standards and female billeting and my unit has been very accommodating to help figure out solutions to that when we’ve been in the field. It’s been great working with them, to be honest.”
Over the past year, as the Air Force adjusted to the new policy allowing transgender people to serve, it even began publicizing the stories of some transgender airmen. In a commentary posted on Nellis Air Force Base’s website June 30, Senior Airman Irene Nelson, an air traffic controller, described how she came to realize she was a transgender woman and made her transition.
And last November, Offut Air Force Base posted a profile of Staff Sgt. Ashleigh Buch, an instructor with the 338th Combat Training Squadron there, about her transition and the strain of living in the closet.
“When you have to serve and you aren’t able to be yourself, it’s going to dampen your spirit,” Buch said in that profile. “If you’re going to have to constantly worry about being outed, or constantly worry about your safety or your health — and do that all in silence — you’re never going to be as good as you could be.”
Ireland emphasized the wide variety of roles transgender people serve today in the Air Force.
“We have pilots, we have doctors, we have combat medics, we have security forces members like myself,” Ireland said. “We are everywhere in the military, and for our president to not have a military member’s back that is willing to die for him, blows my mind. And it just makes me very motivated today to continue my training.”
Jeff Schogol and Shawn Snow contributed to this report.
Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.