THE NEW DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL

SI­LENCE NO LONGER RE­QUIRED, UN­LESS YOU'RE TRANS

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com

The lat­est on the ban trans sol­diers, changes post DADT,

“I just knew I was go­ing to be dis­crim­i­nated against for the rest of my ca­reer. I didn’t stand a chance of ever get­ting pro­moted or stand a chance of re­tir­ing, so I said okay, I’ll cut my losses, take my honor­able dis­charge and go find a civil­ian job some­where close to home.” —Kay Fur­long, who served in the Air Force from 1992-1999

Sept. 20, 2011 marked the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the be­gin­ning of les­bian, gay and bi­sex­ual U.S. armed forces ser­vice mem­bers be­ing al­lowed to serve openly for the first time. While that was a mo­men­tous oc­ca­sion for the LGB com­mu­nity, it left out, as of­ten hap­pens, the T.

But hope emerged in Fe­bru­ary 2015 when, just days after as­sum­ing of­fice, Sec­re­tary of De­fense Ash­ton Carter said the fol­low­ing at a town hall meet­ing with sol­diers in Afghanistan: “I’m very open-minded about [it] pro­vided they can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the im­por­tant cri­te­ria. Are they go­ing to be ex­cel­lent ser­vice mem­bers? And I don’t think any­thing but their suit­abil­ity for ser­vice should pre­clude them.” The White House is­sued their sup­port for Carter’s state­ment, and he cre­ated a work­ing group to study how to in­te­grate trans­gen­der peo­ple into the ser­vices.

That Au­gust, USA To­day un­earthed a memo cir­cu­lated among top mil­i­tary per­son­nel that said the ban would end on May 27, 2016. But ear­lier this month, as trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers (and veter­ans who had been kicked out) counted down to the end of the ban, the Washington Post re­ported that dis­agree­ments re­mained in the De­fense De­part­ment about how to move for­ward with the ban and that it would not end as sched­uled.

A dress and a rep­ri­mand

It was the late 1990s and Kay Fur­long was fly­ing high. As a cap­tain in the Air Force at Scott Air Force Base just out­side of St. Louis, she was just two lay­ers be­low a three­star gen­eral and was in charge of nearly 100 lieu­tenant colonels, ma­jors and oth­ers.

But there was one prob­lem: Kay wasn’t known as Kay yet. She still iden­ti­fied as a man, although she says she knew she was “dif­fer­ent.” The Air Force found out her secret thanks to a nosy neigh­bor who saw her out in a dress and re­ported her. She got called into her com­man­der’s of­fice and got a let­ter of rep­ri­mand on file for her ac­tions.

“My com­man­der had said, ‘Okay well if you agree to see the psy­chi­a­trist and agree to never dress like this again and agree that you’ll be straight and ad­here to all the mil­i­tary stan­dards, if you’re clean for two years I’ll pull this rep­ri­mand out of your file,’” Fur­long told Ge­or­gia Voice. “So I went ahead and did all that stuff. I was be­ing my­self at home but I just tried to be care­ful if I went out with any friends or any­thing like that.”

She kept her head down and tried to stay fo­cused on her du­ties, but alarm bells went off when she was up for ad­vance­ment and she failed to get the en­dorse­ment of the three-star gen­eral.

“I was do­ing a lot of high level, heavy duty stuff and just was not get­ting any kind of credit be­cause I had al­ready tar­nished my­self,” she said. “So I could see where that was go­ing.”

She was seven years into her mil­i­tary ca­reer and be­gin­ning to take the long view. Did she want to put in an­other 10 years of her life and go for early re­tire­ment? That meant an­other decade of trav­el­ing all over the globe, mov­ing ev­ery two or three years, not hav­ing any­thing saved up and just cross­ing her fin­gers she wouldn’t get kicked out.

“You give up your life for your coun­try, you don’t get a fam­ily, you don’t set­tle down. So I had all that weigh­ing on my mind,” Fur­long said. “I just knew I was go­ing to be dis­crim­i­nated against for the rest of my ca­reer. I didn’t stand a chance of ever get­ting pro­moted or stand a chance of re­tir­ing, so I said okay, I’ll cut my losses, take my honor­able dis­charge and go find a civil­ian job some­where close to home.”

So she called it quits and moved home to Au­gusta, Ge­or­gia to take care of her fa­ther after her mother passed away. And an­other valu­able mem­ber of the U.S. mil­i­tary was lost to the ban on trans­gen­der troops. She later came out, got to start­ing that fam­ily and now lives with her wife and kids in New­nan.

End to the ban forth­com­ing?

Fur­long’s story is one all too com­mon to At­lanta trans­gen­der ac­tivist Mon­ica Helms, who in 2003 founded the Trans­gen­der Amer­i­can Veter­ans As­so­ci­a­tion (TAVA). Helms, who served on two sub­marines for the U.S. Navy from 1970 to 1978, also cre­ated the trans­gen­der flag. She left TAVA in 2013 but still ad­vo­cates for trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers and veter­ans like her.

“Gen­der non-con­form­ing peo­ple have been serv­ing our coun­try since the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, many with dis­tinc­tion,” Helms told Ge­or­gia Voice. “[If ] at least 15 other ally coun­tries have lifted the ban with no is­sues, then so can we, just like it was when we lifted the ban on LGB peo­ple. A trans woman even served on the same res­cue team as Prince Wil­liam and was at his wed­ding. There are be­tween 12,000 and 15,000 trans peo­ple serv­ing to­day. It’s time to al­low them to come out of the closet.”

De­fense Sec­re­tary Carter re­port­edly still re­mains com­mit­ted to end­ing the ban and his of­fice has said it would likely take “months, but not large num­bers of months” to fi­nal­ize de­tails. Mean­while, an ea­ger seg­ment of the mil­i­tary awaits.

At­lanta trans­gen­der ac­tivist Mon­ica Helms (far right) founded the Trans­gen­der Amer­i­can Veter­ans As­so­ci­a­tion in 2003. (Cour­tesy photo)

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