Transgender people and advocates dispute Trump military ban, saying they're no burden

Jan 30, 2019

Last week, the nation's highest court, by a 5-to-4 unsigned order, allowed President Donald Trump's ban on transgender individuals serving in the military take effect. Proponents of the ban say military operations could be disrupted by including transgender soldiers and sailors. Advocates for the transgender community, as well as one who served in the military, say that's nonsense.

Diana Lee Patton served in the United States Navy in the early to mid 1990s. She was in her late teens and early 20s while serving. Patton did not recognize and act upon her transgender identity until she was in her 30s. But she knew as far back as childhood she was somehow different.

Diana Lynn Patton holds up a photo of when she served in the US Navy as a man. She told WBFO while she didn't begin her transformation until after leaving the military, she knew she was "different" as far back as childhood. She also holds up a certificate from the VA Western New York Healthcare System for past work in transgender-related issues.
Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Patton welcomed WBFO to her home recently, where a back condition unrelated to her service limits her mobility but she is an active advocate for the transgender community.

She recalled being in the military during the "don't ask, don't tell" period, when many of her shipmates feared retibution including dishonorable discharge if they were to reveal their homosexuality.

"There's always a small percentage that object to everything," she said. "I've seen racist people in the military. I've seen all different types of people in the military. But for the overall most part, the military has rules and regulations to stifle that. People tend to learn that it doesn't matter what race, religion, color, creed, whatever, of the person next to you, as long they can do the job. That's all that matters."

In July 2017, President Donald Trump announced via his Twitter account a ban on transgender persons from military service, explaining his decision in a three-part message:

In 2018, the Defense Department clarified the language, applying the ban to individuals diagnosed with what is known as gender dysphoria, when a person conflicts - often times with distress - with the gender by which they were born. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court by a 5-to-4 order took no stance on the legality of the ban while it continues to be disputed in cases at lower courts.

"I have friends who have either been in the military, or were interested in pursuing that, but are not able to do that any longer," said Cameron Schraufstetter, a community health specialist under the Transgender Health Initiative at the Pride Center of Western New York.

Among Schraufstetter's concerns are whether transgender people lose any military benefits to which they were originally entitled. Singling out transgendered members also puts them at higher risk of harm, advocates say. About 20 to 30 are victims of homicide each year. They're also four times more likely than others to attempt suicide.

"(There's) some correlation between the general mental health as well as issues such as bullying and discrimination from employment, school, family," Schraufstetter replied, when asked for reasons for a higher likelihood of suicide attempts.

Patton suggests a couple of studies exist which conclude transgender people are more likely to enlist than people of other demographics and she offers two theories for why: one is that a uniform eliminates gender dysphoria - everyone's wearing the same thing. The other theory, Patton suggests, is that transgenders, while struggling with identity, join movements that foster hyper masculinity. For example sports, bikers, military service. Patton says she got involved with the biker crowd.

Those arguing that transgender individuals compromise combat readiness because they may require medical maintenance which, if deployed into the field for an extended period of time, might pose a problem with combat readiness. Nonsense, says Patton.

"You miss your hormones, you're not going to die," she said. "Plain and simple. You can miss your hormones. I miss my hormones every now and then. It's a maintenance drug. It's a life-altering drug but it's not something that's going to kill you if you miss it."

In 2016, the military commissioned the Rand Corporation to study trangender members within the service. Rand estimated anywhere from 1,300 to 6,600 were enrolled but added that many would not require the kind of medical treatment that would make them undeployable. The report concluded there would be minimal health care cost and readiness impact by letting transgender persons serve.

Patton says there's simply no time, while on active duty, to be preoccupied with sexual or gender identity.

"You work seven days a week, 24 hours a day. I was on 'six and sixes,' which is six hours on, six hours off, every day of my week on the ship," she said. "You do your job. That's what you're there for."