“Elated” was the word Air Force Tech Sgt. Jamie Hash used to describe the moment she heard the news.
“It’s just a feeling of relief, that the thousands of us currently serving all over the world can rest easier knowing that our service is valued and seen. We can serve as our authentic selves,” she said.
Hash is an openly trans service member from San Antonio stationed in the United Kingdom, where she works as a manpower analyst. She was previously stationed at Joint Base San Antonio, where she counseled Air Force leaders about how best to support their trans colleagues.
“Diversity is a force multiplier,” Hash said. “It improves our readiness. This is just a sign that the administration is aware of that.”
Trump first ordered a ban on transgender troops in a series of tweets in July 2017. The policy that followed disqualified openly transgender people from enlisting. It also prevented current troops from transitioning to another sex unless they were diagnosed with gender dysphoria before April 12, 2019.
Hash met that deadline. She began her Air Force service in 2011 and started to transition years before the Trump-era ban took effect. As a result, she was grandfathered in and allowed to continue serving openly. A 2018 study from the Palm Center, a research organization that focuses on military sexuality, estimated that there are nearly 15,000 transgender troops currently serving.
Even though the ban is being repealed, Hash said, there’s still work to be done before the military can claim real inclusivity. Even while serving openly, she faced disrcimination in the form of career hurdles and limited medical care.
“Back at JBSA, there was only one medical provider at the base who I could see…because all the other providers had opted out of seeing trans people,” she said. “People are getting denied training, various career opportunities, medical care…and that’s just for the military members themselves. But it also translates over to [their] dependents.”
Nonetheless, Hash believed many transgender service members will soon start the medical transition process. She also anticipated a jump in enlistments from trans people who have waited years for a chance to serve their country authentically.
Newly-appointed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement that the department would immediately take policy action to “ensure individuals who identify as transgender are eligible to enter and serve in their self-identified gender.”
Those changes, he said, would ensure that no troops would be separated, discharged or denied reenlistment solely on the basis of gender identity. He also pledged to “reexamine all cases of transgender service members that may be in some form of adverse administrative proceedings.”
The Defense Department hasn’t yet released a formal policy in response to Biden’s order. But Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, said he’s ready to support trans people who have questions.
“If the rush of enlistment questions and questions about medical access come about, we will have a list of resources that people can count on,” he explained.
Martinez anticipated the change will galvanize some in Texas — and beyond — to take up anti-trans causes.
“There might be some immediate pushback or immediate filing of bills that are aimed at transgender or anti LGBTQ in state legislatures,” he said.
Robert Salcido, CEO of the Pride Center of San Antonio, echoed that sentiment, pointing to newly filed bills that would affect youth sports and access to healthcare for trans youth. One would penalize providers and parents who try to help transgender children transition.
“That doesn’t even necessarily mean a medical transition,” he added. “It could be through puberty blockers, which is not any type of medical change or or any type of surgery. Simple acts of trying to affirm their children or to affirm patients could become criminal acts in the state of Texas.”
Equality Texas and the Pride Center of San Antonio both plan to monitor such activity during the state’s 2021 legislative session, which is underway now. But despite the possible repercussions of repealing the transgender service ban, Salcido is celebrating.
“I was definitely elated to see it happen so quickly,” he said. “Transgender people who have dreamed of joining the military can now join again. They should be able to join the military. They should be evaluated based on the same standards as all other members.”