Transgender veterans much more likely to suffer discrimination than non-trans civilians. So now, a New Jersey decorated war vet has a new mission.
The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" did nothing to allow transgender people to serve in the military. But, as the spotlight of LGBT rights shines on the recent progress of lesbians and gays, it also highlights all the areas where transgender people are left behind.
In 2012, a Bilerico blog highlighted the story of a trans woman, Sergeant Major Jennifer Long , a decorated war hero who was promoted to E-9, the highest enlisted pay grade, who was awarded a Bronze Star and a "French National Defense Medal" remarkably while serving in "stealth" in the middle of her transition as a woman.
It was just the beginning of her story – her mission to help her fellow Americans, her fellow veterans, and her fellow transpeople.
Long got a job in New Jersey in the financial sector, made a commitment to be active in LGBT political advocacy and also in veterans affairs, working for all veterans, and was recently elected Post Commander of her VFW Post. As impressive as that may sound, she was not the first transperson elected "Commander" of a VFW post. That distinction belongs to another "Jersey Girl," another Jennifer, and friend and warrior, Jennifer Denklau, who retired to Northern Arizona and was elected Commander in 2010.
One of the greatest challenges to transgender people is the documentation of our being in our modern data driven gender binary society. Most all trans people need change their names, we need to change our gender on documents to match our actual gender identity, our true selves.
We've come a long way with the Federal government. The Obama Administration has overseen changing gender markers for Social Security, and under Secretary Hillary Clinton the State Department has made common sense rules for changing the gender markers on US Passports. Although the Veteran's Adminsitration has made some accommodations to recognize and respect trans veterans, roadblocks still remain.
Here in New Jersey I worked with State officials in 2009 to modernize and simplify the procedure to change the gender markers on NJ Drivers Licenses. It was a success as it worked for our drivers as well as our Motor Vehicle Commission. In 2013, I recruited Jennifer for our task force to pass legislation to modernize the policy and procedures to change the gender markers on our birth certificates. While working on that she was inspired to take the lead with the ACLU on another mission, to change the gender marker on the basic military ID form the DD214.
National Public Radio has picked up her story and the real life reasons for needing to make the changes.
Perhaps 150,000 or more vets are affected and the acknowleged FACT that transpeople serve in the US Military at a significantly higher percentage than the general population.
Jennifer summed it up well:
"You faced the enemies of the United States...What a shame that you have to hide that service because you're afraid of someone's perception of you."