As the Pentagon reportedly considers reviewing the military policy barring transgender Americans from serving openly in the armed forces, a former Navy sailor discharged for being transgender shared his story with CBS Evening News Tuesday.
Landon Wilson, the former Navy cryptologist who was also the subject of a front-page feature in The Washington Post last year, recounted for CBS's Jonathan Lapook the moment in 2013 when he was pulled off of active duty in Afghanistan.
"It was a command sergeant major in Afghanistan who pulled me to his office and he said, 'I need to know exactly what you are,'" Wilson said. The major was reviewing Wilson's records because he was being considered for a promotion.
Wilson, who was assigned female at birth, had transitioned to male after enlisting in the Navy and by the time he was stationed in Afghanistan was consistently presenting and identifying as male. He was placed in men's barracks with his fellow sailors.
"It was the best experience of my entire military career," Wilson said of his time in the Navy while he was allowed to live as his authentic gender. "It was probably the only time that I knew 100 percent that I could focus on my job without worrying about my gender coming into play."
But when the chain of command learned that Wilson was transgender, he was immediately removed from his position, sent home within a day, and given an honorable discharge under long-standing military code that declares a transgender identity or any trans-affirming clinical treatment to be evidence of a mental illness.
"My main concern was who was gonna take my spot?" Wilson said of the day he was removed from his post. "When you're in a place like that, you can't really afford to lose anybody."
The American Psychiatric Association and every major mental health organization in the country has declared that being transgender is not a mental health issue, and several prominent studies over the past two years have determined that there is "no compelling medical reason" to continue to deny open military service to transgender Americans. Last August, a nine-member commission, which included several retired generals and flag officers, concluded that allowing trans troops to serve openly would be "neither excessively complex or burdensome." Indeed, 18 countries in Europe and elsewhere have already allowed trans citizens to serve openly without issue. Those nations include numerous U.S. allies like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, and Israel.
Watch CBS's interview with Wilson below.