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Chelsea Manning Story Highlights the Issue of Transgender Equality in the Military

08/28/2013 11:27 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Before I became an attorney, I served as a Marine Corps Scout-Sniper (STA platoon, Echo Co., 2nd battalion, 4th Marines, 2nd Marine Division). My experience molded me with a sense of honor and duty and imbued me with discipline and courage. Striving to give my best in the military while burying my authentic self, however, was disruptive and damaging and frequently led me to seek out dysfunctional coping mechanisms. I was often anxious over the possibility of getting "caught" as my true self, and suffered great shame and self-revulsion for who I was, and feared that if I were discovered I would be involuntarily discharged. Although I take great pride in having served our country, I did not consider re-enlisting because of the military's bar on open service by transgender people.

The recent news of Chelsea Manning's decision to live as her authentic self continues the conversation about what it means to be transgender in our society, in our military, and in our prisons.

Recent statements by Army officials asserting that Ms. Manning will not be provided any medical treatment related to gender transition while incarcerated are inappropriate and reflect outdated policies, misunderstanding, and bias. By contrast, the Veteran's Administration, acknowledging the most recent medical understanding of transgender care, has begun providing medically necessary treatment to transgender veterans. The VA's decision was based on statements from the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and numerous other medical organizations that have defined gender affirming health care treatment as medically necessary for many transgender people. (Even the IRS defines it as such.) More and more companies, municipalities, and insurance regulators across the country, relying on current medical understanding, have removed outdated and discriminatory exclusions for health care needed by transgender individuals.

The Army's decision to publicly announce and pre-determine what should be a matter of individualized healthcare treatment was personally compromising to Ms. Manning, and reflects what appears to be a political statement based upon the fear of appearing to support a politically unpopular group.

Transgender people are, and always have been, an integral part of our country's fabric. We are teachers, parents, bus drivers, and caretakers. Many of us have served or are currently serving proudly and honorably in our country's military.

As transgender service members, past and present, we expect more from our military. We've marched through the jungles of Vietnam, fought in the mountains of Korea, and served in the deserts of Iraq, and we deserve more than this. We deserve an objective and scientifically based (and private) approach toward deciding how transgender health care issues will be addressed.

Many of us enlisted because we viewed serving our country as our duty, and many of us willingly postponed transitioning our gender or buried our authentic selves to commit our energies to what we viewed as a higher purpose. It is time for the exclusions to end and to allow transgender service members to serve openly and proudly. And it is time to stop allowing outdated and bias-based views to guide the health care policy at the Fort Leavenworth military prison.

When transgender people are able to bring their authentic selves to their military operational specialty or any job in the civil sector, they are able to stop worrying about being stigmatized and persecuted and can perform their jobs with all of the energy and focus that the work requires. We will have a stronger military, and a stronger country, when that is the case.

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