Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis released a statement Aug. 29 regarding the military service of transgender individuals. According to the statement, a “panel of experts” will assemble to determine next steps. The directive hits close to home for U of L student and part-time personnel captain, Jacob Eleazer.
“It was a pretty big shock,” Eleazer said. “It’s hard to focus on what’s going on in front of you, if you’re worried about losing your job. It’s pretty disruptive.”
On July 26, President Donald Trump called for the total ban of transgender individuals in the military via tweet. The decision ran counter to former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s order last year to allow transgender individuals to serve openly.
“The United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” Trump tweeted. He went on to cite “tremendous medical costs and disruption” as the reason.
Eleazer said the policy currently allows trans people already serving to stay along with those who are not “out.” The current policy does not allow for trans people to enlist or commission. The fate of trans people already serving remains undecided. Mattis announced a decision will be made six months after the panel’s recommendations.
The directive has had a trickle-down effect through various branches. Eleazer says the military cannot currently enlist, perform induction ceremonies or commissions. For example, soldiers currently enrolled in programs like U of L’s ROTC are not able to commission.
The last few years have been touch and go for Eleazer. He says his separation paperwork arrived in the mail two hours before Carter changed the policy in 2016. Separation is when someone in the service is removed from active duty, but not the military entirely.
“I barely got to stay in at that point,” he said.
Despite being a part of the National Guard 198th Military Police Battalion with 11 years of service, Eleazer has encountered this problem first hand. Eleazer is in progress on a doctoral degree in psychology at the university, hoping to transfer to the mental health field in the military. Because this requires a new commission, Eleazer is unable to do so.
“Even though I’m already an officer, I’m already serving, I can’t transfer to a mental health position because of the way that policy is written. It’s a pretty big detriment to the army that I’m sitting in a human resources position, when I could be providing mental health treatment to soldiers,” he said.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAAD), a national LGBTQ advocacy group, reported statistics from the UCLA Law School that 150,000 trans people have served or are currently serving in the military.
Lisa Gunterman, U of L’s LGBTQ Center Director, says the current administration’s actions go beyond the military.
“When the president of the U.S. comes out and disparages your identity, he basically sends a signal to everybody in the country that it’s okay to discriminate against you,” Gunterman said.
What Gunterman finds most disheartening is the climate towards the trans people who’ve sworn to serve their country and were “virtually fired by a tweet.”
“To me, it’s like a hate crime,” Gunterman said.
Eleazer echoed these sentiments.
“Anytime one subgroup of our population is impacted, it impacts us all,” he said. “There is no medical or psychiatric reason why trans people can’t serve and do so successfully because we already have been.”
He said the previous policy allowing transgender people to openly serve yielded positive results.
“(I)t humanized the story of trans folks that was pretty positive to the community. We were able to see these folks come out of the closet and speak openly about their identities. It allowed folks to see what trans people can accomplish if we get some of that institutionalized discrimination out of the way,” he said.