Utah transgender advocates cheer being able to serve in the military

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – President Biden is changing the previous administration’s policy of Transgender people serving in the military has caused reaction all over the country. Here in Utah, local advocates are cheering the change.

Over the last few years, transgender Americans have felt they were losing ground in the equality race. The Trump administration reversed several key policies revolving around health care, bathroom use, and military service.

President Biden has just reversed the policy on transgender people serving in the military, and local advocates in Utah are cheering on the change.

According to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki at a White House Press Briefing: “President Biden issued an executive order setting the policy that all Americans who are qualified to serve in the armed forces of the United States should be able to serve.  Today’s action revokes the Presidential Memorandum of Mar. 23, 2018, and also confirms the revocation of the Presidential Memorandum of Aug. 25, 2017.

Photo Courtesy: Utah Pride Center

Tisha Olsen, a transgender woman in Utah who served in the U.S. military, says, “I am glad to see America catch up with the times.”

She served in several combat situations including, Panama, Beirut, Grenada, Desert Storm, and Kosovo.

She told ABC4 she had served when you could not be out, “I always have had the question in my mind what kind of marine I would have been if I could have been myself, could have been authentic.

Psaki said, “Today’s action fulfills another campaign promise.  With this EO, no one will be separated or discharged from the military or denied reenlistment on the basis of gender identity.  And for those transgender service members who were discharged or separated because of their gender identity, their cases will be re-examined. 

President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service and that America’s strength is found in its diversity.  “America is stronger at home and around the world when it is inclusive,” Biden said.

She explained when she served she felt, ” undue stress and pressure on doing my job better and not worry about being outed and losing everything I had worked for, all my benefits.”

“As a veteran, the lifting of the ban against the transgender community is long overdue. Here it is, 2021, and we are finally letting anyone and everyone who can meet the standards serve our country. If you want to serve and you meet the standards, what is the issue? We’ve served honorably and diligently in hiding: Now we can serve openly and authentically as ourselves.” 

Tisha added “Yeah we’re different. You may not like us, you may not understand us, but there is no reason to hate us, and what is the problem with us giving our lives for our country just like any other red blooded American would do.”

Nick Arteaga the Adult Programs Manager at the the Utah Pride Center says:

“The new executive order repealing the ban on transgender people serving in the military is significant and definitely a win. To be trans, nonbinary,  gender nonconforming, or any identity under the trans umbrella is already extremely difficult.

(Photo by Capt. Grace Geiger)

You are constantly othered and always feeling inept and finding new ways to prove that you also deserve a seat at the table. A lot of folx I know, love, and respect have served to defend our freedom and rights as Americans, and I can see the emotional waves of relief, pride, and sense of belonging that we all deserve wash over them.”

Breeze Hannaford an LCSW and GIVE coordinator with the Veterans administration said, “having this possibility open up that they can reenlist, I think is really going to be meaningful for them.”

Arteaga explained to ABC4, “To be different and treated as less than is dehumanizing, and for many trans people serving in the military in some capacity is unbelievably validating.

Hannaford said there are over 14,000 troops currently serving in the military that currently identify as transgender. “So all of those individuals that have put time, energy, resources into training, very specialized training, and they were going to get discharged from the military because of this thing that doesn’t really effect readiness

Arteaga said, “For a lot of gender-creative folks, we understand the value of chosen family, especially when you’ve been rejected by your initial family, close friends, and support group when coming out. There’s a sense of camaraderie and understanding amongst service members, and to negate someone of that privilege is utterly devastating, Arteaga said.”

Dr Candice Metzler the Transgender Education Advocates Director here in Utah said, “As a mental health worker, a lot of the work we do is dealing with that stigma that people internalize. So for a military service member to feel that sense of pride that they can be present fully is a positive step to help overcome some of those types of attacks to peoples self esteem and sense of worth”

“It is critical to remember our military people put their lives on the line to serve. “Whether you are a vet, plan to serve, or are currently serving, I think anyone who would put their life on the line is more than deserving of at least having the choice to enlist or not.” Arteaga said, “It’s unfortunate that in the year 2021, we are still having the conversation about whether trans people should have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else, but this executive order by the Biden administration gives me hope.”

(AP Photo/Ali Abdul Hassan)

For Nick Arteaga, what all members of the military do when they accept the responsibility to serve is not lost:

“The idea that our transgender community members will be seen as equals in all aspects of our society, including the military, is a wonderful and long-awaited concept. I would love to take this opportunity to say thank you to all of our vets and active service members for all of their dedication and commitment to keeping our country safe.”

NOTE: ABC4 has reached out to the State’s Congressional delegation for comment and has not received a statement at the time of publishing. This story will be updated if responses are sent.

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