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Army Reservist On Transgender Military Ban

Apr 13, 2019
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The Trump administration's policy barring transgender people from serving openly in the military went into effect yesterday. The policy has forced transgender soldiers and other personnel to either try to conceal their identity and keep quiet or file paperwork to get a diagnosis of gender dysphoria before Friday. If a service member did not get that diagnosis and is openly transgender, they will be discharged. Elliot Sommer is a graduate student in the U.S. Army Reserves and has been waiting for that diagnosis for months, yesterday finally discovered what's next for him. And he joins us now.

Mr. Sommer, thanks for being with us.

ELLIOT SOMMER: Well, thank you for having me.

SIMON: And will you still be able to serve?

SOMMER: Yes, the Army Reserve surgeon had signed my paperwork, and I will be able to continue serving.

SIMON: What's it been like for you waiting?

SOMMER: Incredibly stressful. We are coming down to a pretty tight timeline to try to get everything done. But it's been tough, especially with everything being out of my hands.

SIMON: When you say getting everything done, help us understand what that entails.

SOMMER: So as a reservist, I had to submit a packet of paperwork that included a plan for my transition and a diagnosis from a civilian medical provider of gender dysphoria through my chain of command. And it had to travel up through different levels of command to the reserve surgeon. And she had to approve that diagnosis that was made by a civilian provider.

SIMON: Now, the administration has said that this policy does not ban transgender people from serving because they can still serve, just in the sex in which they were born. I wonder how you answer that.

SOMMER: Transition is a medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria. And not every transgender person experiences dysphoria. But barring those from medically necessary treatment based on a medical condition - that's where the ban is.

SIMON: You're transitioning from woman to man. And I understand treatment doesn't begin until December. Is that correct?

SOMMER: So my transition has already begun. Hormone replacement therapy has begun by civilian provider. And the military is aware. However, the treatment plan that I had submitted includes other things, such as potential surgeries - and this is for every service member. They have to submit a treatment plan. Once that treatment plan is completed, there's a timeline in that treatment plan of when your gender marker will change in the eyes of the Department of Defense. So the plan that I had submitted would result in a gender marker change of female to male in December of this year.

SIMON: Forgive me for not knowing, but how will you mark it? How will you present yourself differently?

SOMMER: So currently, to the military, I am female, which means that I have to follow all regulations - physical presentation and housing and bathroom and every female regulation that is on the books. And then in December, once that changes from female to male, I will then be required to fall under all of the appearance, physical fitness, bathroom, housing, all of the male regulations for that.

SIMON: Are these going to be tough months ahead for you, feeling and identifying as one way but having to live as a woman?

SOMMER: I think that I have it better than some others that have to live as someone that they're not full time. Being a reservist on the civilian side, I live as male full time. And everybody at my unit that I have come out to has been absolutely wonderful. So I'm hoping that in these next few months, as things progress and paperwork gets approved further and we get closer to that December change, I'm hoping that it becomes easier and easier.

SIMON: Why did you enlist, Mr. Sommer?

SOMMER: My grandfather was an infantryman in World War II. And growing up hearing his stories made me want to be a part of something bigger than myself. My other grandfather was a Marine during Korea. And I want to be involved in researching PTSD to help people that have been affected by PTSD from a variety of traumatic incidences, especially combat.

SIMON: So even after all these trials, you want to serve your country in the military.

SOMMER: Absolutely.

SIMON: Elliot Sommer, a graduate student in the U.S. Army Reserves, thank you so much.

SOMMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.