Alice Ashton has spent nearly half her life in the U.S. military.
Nearly 18 of her 39 years have been spent in the Air Force and Navy. Her father served in the Air Force from time she was two. So, what would the transgender Arabic linguist do if forced to find another job?
“I have a hard time answering that question,” she said. “Basically I joined the military, and it just seemed like the life I was meant to live.”
Tuesday brings a crushing reality for transgender Americans, already facing unemployment at three times (15 percent) the national rate according to the U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS).
“The military is the largest employer in the nation and, as the USTS found, transgender people are twice as likely to have served in the Armed Forces as the general population,” noted Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality.
It’s those two facts that have led many to conclude that U.S. military is the single largest employer of transgender people in the nation.The USTS found in 2015 that a staggering 18 percent of all transgender people had served in the military.
The Williams Institute estimates there are currently 1.4 million transgender Americans in the U.S. That means nearly one percent of transgender Americans stand to lose their jobs under the ban.
Ashton is not expected to be among the trans service members discharged. That’s because service members who have a diagnosis of “gender dysphoria” before the policy takes effect are grandfathered in. So are active members who have transitioned three years prior to enlisting or who have no plans to transition medically while in service.
Overwhelmingly, however, trans service members will not be covered by that exception. Roughly 14,700 trans people are serving, according to the the Palm Center, a research institute that studies LGBTQ military inclusion. That number is based off of data from the Department of Defense and the Palm Center’s own study on the Selected Reserve.
Aaron Belkin Director, the Palm Center’s Director, said that just 937 transgender service members currently meet the exemptions that would clear them for service.
“That doesn't mean that those 937 troops will be safe,” Belkin said. “They’re not protected. What that means is that the Secretary of Defense could change their mind tomorrow and say, ‘Oh, you know what? Actually, I don't think these 937 trips should be grandfathered.’ Or the president of United States could say that, and then the troops would be out.”
Belkin also points out that trans service members who survive the ban will continue to face myriad consequences under the implementation of the ban.
Among them will be Caroline Morrison who has served in the Army and the National Guard since 1999. Morrison served stints in Africa and Iraq where she worked as a radio operator. She came out transgender to her company commander in May of 2017, less than two months before President Trump announced his intention to ban transgender military service on Twitter. She now serves as religious affairs specialist in Kansas.
“The thing that changes with the implementation of this ban is [Army chaplain] assesions go out the window,” she said. “Career progression for me, instead of becoming a chaplain, stays enlisted at this point, which honestly is a bit of a dissapointment.”
Ashton, too, worries about the future of her transgender colleagues. She facilitates a support group for 30 transgender people at Ft. Meade Military Base in Maryland.
“I feel guilty that I will most likely be able to retire as who I am, and these people may not,” she said.
She encourages other trans service members to seek out “gender dysphoria” designations from military physicians now, before the policy is officially implemented.
“I think the biggest thing with this story is that it not be viewed as a finality,” Morrison added. “Is it a setback? Yeah. But it’s not the end.”