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Justine Valinotti Headshot

How We Can Truly Serve Our Country -- and World

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I have written about Chuck Hagel's declaration that the ban against transgenders in the military should be "reviewed" and that "every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have the opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it."

I have also written, in Transwoman Times , about my attitude toward legalizing same-sex marriage: I am glad that it's happening, but I think that the government's role in deciding who can marry should be limited to establishing a minimum age. And churches or other religious institutions should not be vested with the power to confer legally-married status on any two people. In other words, the government should do no more than to grant civil unions to any two people of the age of consent who want to be together. Then, the couples can decide whether they want to marry in a church or whatever.

Why am I mentioning that in the context of transgender people serving in the military? Well, my attitude about getting rid of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the possibility of doing the same for the ban on transgenders is very similar: I'm glad it's happening, but I also think there has to be an even more fundamental change.

I have long believed that the human race will advance only if we get rid of war. If we don't, we'll die. All of us. If anything, we should be discouraging people from joining the Armed Forces and finding ways to put their--our--talents and skills to use to save our planet and better ourselves. That will happen only when people respect each other's differences and stop exploiting or killing each other over them. For what is war but the ultimate expression of a person's--or a group of people's--disrespect for the sanctity and individuality of another?

Transgenders should be the first people to understand what I've said in the previous paragraph. And I think we should be in the forefront of teaching and showing respect for people's differences. Doing so would preclude joining the military: After all, what effaces a person's individuality more than becoming part of "the big green fighting machine"?

We need to find better ways of escaping poverty, paying for college or getting a good health plan--and to redefine what it means to "serve" one's country or community. That said, I want to take this opportunity to remember those who have sacrificed portions of their lives--or their very lives--for what we now think of as service to our country. As we now know, among them are many transgender people who camouflaged themselves, went "stealth" or however you want to describe their efforts to fit into a country's notion of what it means to serve--or simply have a job.