By GLAAD.org | April 30, 2021
SPECIAL TO GLAAD/FROM ARMY VETERAN LAILA IRELAND
Today the U.S. military resumes its policy to allow transgender personnel to serve openly. It is a promise kept for President Biden, who campaigned to reverse the ban suddenly imposed nearly four years ago. It’s also a moment to savor for trans military members, who can now serve as any other American, out and as our authentic selves.
“It’s simple,” President Biden tweeted in his first week in office as he announced the repeal, “America is safer when everyone who is qualified to serve can do so openly and with pride.”
Unfortunately what should be simple is not, in reality, as simple as saying so. While trans troops counted down the days for the discriminatory ban to finally be lifted, dozens of state legislatures drew up bills to attack transgender people and youth. States are coming between a trans kid and their doctor, or a student and her chance to play on a school team. In multiple ways, America is not safer for them.
Transgender people and children, like trans troops, have always been among our ranks, in our families, schools, neighborhoods and workplaces. Many states have long had policies to include trans athletes. Lawmakers and other elected officials introducing these bills cannot cite a single instance of it ever being an issue in their states. This is familiar territory to trans military members, who saw their contributions and sacrifices unfairly and baselessly dismissed. It’s also familiar to any student of history, as women, Black Americans, gays, lesbians and bisexual military personnel were also once excluded, segregated, abused and kicked out of the service.
Transgender students might see themselves in the service members who have faced an overwhelming burden these last few years – being able to hold true to the integrity of their authentic identities while being declared unfit to serve (or play); continuing to protect and serve (or simply grow up in) a country that hasn’t seen them as equally deserving of the same liberties and freedoms as everyone else; not being granted the same respect of their peers who serve (or learn) alongside them.
Here’s what I want every young trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming person to know, from someone who personally experienced being excluded for who I am, yesterday as a trans military veteran, and historically as a woman of color:
You are not alone in your fight to simply be who you are.
You have value, as an individual and as a team member.
You are a citizen of our great country and deserve all its blessings.
You can and will contribute to moving our society forward, to be more welcoming, more equal, more just, more prosperous, more successful, more compassionate.
You are absolutely worthy of dignity and respect – as your authentic self.
I know this because transgender military members have proven it through their service, despite the mistreatment by the former commander in chief. Service members continue to show the world how they should be acknowledged and respected for their service to this country and for them as people of this nation. This dark chapter showered a positive spotlight on transgender service members, highlighting their accomplishments, garnering support and acceptance from the American public and military colleagues. Combined with multiple studies conducted over the span of several years, our real life experiences and stellar examples of service, we refuted all of the previous administration’s misconceptions about transgender service members, and transgender people. These advances must now pave the way for transgender youth.
In his address to Congress and the American people Wednesday night, President Biden became the first president to say the word transgender in such an address, making a new promise. “To all the transgender Americans watching at home,” President Biden said, “especially the young people who are so brave. I want you to know that your president has your back.”
Every transgender young person can count on trans military members and veterans to line up beside you and behind you. You too will have the opportunity to be seen and to shine as the next generation elite team of heroes. I call on every American to join us in this newest urgent fight for liberty and justice for all.
Retired Army Veteran, Laila Ireland, is a Healthcare Management and Administration Supervisor, and served 12 years in the United States Army. She served two combat tours in Iraq and was honorably discharged and medically retired in November 2015. She advocates for LGBTQIA youth, veterans, and transgender equity by speaking in schools, military installations and businesses across America. She serves on the Board of Directors for Minority Veterans of America – a non-profit organization designed to create belonging and advance equity for underrepresented veterans compiled of veterans of color, women LGBTQ, religious and non-religious minorities, and allies.