Fate un­clear for Naval Academy trail­blazer

Trans­gen­der mid­ship­man’s dreams up­ended by Trump tweet

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY MAIA SILBER

On Wed­nes­day, a few hours af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump an­nounced, via Twit­ter, he would ban trans­gen­der peo­ple from serv­ing in the mil­i­tary, U.S. Naval Academy mid­ship­man Re­gan Kibby drove to a nearby gym. In the locker room, he opened his bag and pulled out a T-shirt em­bla­zoned with the word “Navy” and the academy’s mas­cot, Bill the Goat. Then he started to cry.

“I might not be able to say that any­more,” Kibby, 19, says. “I might not be able to claim ‘Navy.’ ”

Kibby has just fin­ished his sopho­more year at the academy. One year ago, he had told his com­pany of­fi­cer he wanted to tran­si­tion from his bi­o­log­i­cal sex, fe­male, to the gen­der with which he had long iden­ti­fied, male. Af­ter months of med­i­cal ap­point­ments, pa­per­work and dis­cus­sions up the chain of com­mand, he be­came the first mid­ship­man to re­ceive clear­ance to tran­si­tion while en­rolled at the academy. In less than a week, he would sched­ule his first hor­mone ther­apy ap­point­ment at a clinic near his home in Sophia, N.C.

If all went well, he would sub­mit a for­mal re­quest to change the des­ig­na­tion of his gen­der in of­fi­cial records. If he demon­strated phys­i­cal and emo­tional sta­bil­ity for 18 months, he would take his fi­nal ex­ams, grad­u­ate and re­ceive a com­mis­sion as an of­fi­cer: a goal he has dreamed of since child­hood.

But then, the tweet. “Now, I re­plan my fu­ture,” Kibby says.

On Wed­nes­day, Pres­i­dent Trump tweeted that “the United States Govern­ment will not ac­cept or al­low Trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als to serve in any ca­pac­ity in the U.S. Mil­i­tary,” cit­ing the “tremen­dous” med­i­cal cost and “bur­den” trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als pose to the mil­i­tary.

It re­mains un­cer­tain how that an­nounce­ment will af­fect trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als serv­ing in the mil­i­tary. Gen. Joseph F. Dun­ford Jr., chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the heads of the mil­i­tary branches there would be no mod­i­fi­ca­tions to cur­rent pol­icy un­til fur­ther di­rec­tion was re­ceived from the pres­i­dent. It like­wise re­mains un­clear how the an­nounce­ment will af­fect trans­gen­der cadets and mid­ship­men such as Kibby. When asked, a spokesman for the Pen­tagon re­ferred The Wash­ing­ton Post to Dun­ford’s state­ment.

Cmdr. David McKin­ney, a spokesman for the U.S. Naval Academy, said he does not yet know what the an­nounce­ment will mean for the academy, or for Kibby.

Orig­i­nally from San Diego, an area re­plete with naval bases, Kibby had al­ways seen the mil­i­tary as his ob­vi­ous ca­reer choice. His fa­ther had served in the Navy, and Kibby en­rolled in the Ju­nior Re­serve Of­fi­cer Train­ing Corps in high school.

The sum­mer af­ter his ju­nior year there, he at­tended not one ser­vice-ori­ented sum­mer pro­gram, but three, at the U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Mil­i­tary Academy, and U.S. Air Force Academy.

“I felt if I could do it, I should,” he says. “It felt like a duty.” The only ques­tion was which academy he would ul­ti­mately at­tend: Kibby set­tled on the Navy’s, be­cause he felt a sense of com­fort on the wa­ter.

But just as cer­tain as Kibby felt about his fu­ture ca­reer, he also knew some­thing else about him­self. Since he was a child, he had sim­ply not felt like a girl.

For a long time, Kibby didn’t give that feel­ing a name. As a high school stu­dent, it wasn’t that he didn’t know what “trans­gen­der” meant, it was that he did: No academy, no ca­reer.

But in 2015, dur­ing Kibby’s “plebe sum­mer” — the in­tense train­ing pro­gram for in­com­ing fresh­men at the academy — some­thing hap­pened. De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash­ton B. Carter an­nounced that the Pen­tagon would move to al­low trans­gen­der peo­ple to serve openly. With that an­nounce­ment, Kibby fi­nally felt able to name the feel­ing he had al­ways had. He joined Navy Spec­trum, an or­ga­ni­za­tion for LGBT mid­ship­men and their al­lies. He started iden­ti­fy­ing as trans­gen­der to a few mem­bers of the group, then to his room­mates, and fi­nally, in his sec­ond se­mes­ter, to his com­pany of­fi­cer.

At first, academy of­fi­cials could only of­fer ac­cep­tance and sup­port. But when the Pen­tagon of­fi­cially an­nounced last sum­mer that trans­gen­der peo­ple could serve openly in the mil­i­tary, Kibby emailed his com­pany of­fi­cer and asked about the prospect of tran­si­tion­ing.

Kibby’s com­pany of­fi­cer helped put him in con­tact with a med­i­cal of­fi­cer, as the first step to­ward that process would likely be ob­tain­ing a di­ag­no­sis of gen­der dys­pho­ria.

Fi­nally, this past Novem­ber, the Navy is­sued a di­rec­tive out­lin­ing the pro­to­col for ser­vice mem­bers, in­clud­ing mid­ship­men, to tran­si­tion. Kibby would be the first (and so far only) mid­ship­man at the academy to go through that process.

It would en­tail not only ob­tain­ing a di­ag­no­sis, but also con­sult­ing with mul­ti­ple men­tal­health care providers, en­docri­nol­o­gists and plas­tic sur­geons, send­ing his case to the Trans­gen­der Care Team at Portsmouth’s Naval Med­i­cal Cen­ter for re­view, and work­ing with med­i­cal and le­gal teams to pre­pare an of­fi­cial re­quest to take a med­i­cal leaveof-ab­sence to tran­si­tion.

The academy’s com­man­dant and su­per­in­ten­dent ap­proved that re­quest in May, al­most a year af­ter Kibby had ini­tially in­quired about tran­si­tion­ing.

Kibby and the academy were nav­i­gat­ing this new process un­der a veil of un­cer­tainty, fol­low­ing in­terim guide­lines on a pol­icy whose full im­pli­ca­tions were not yet clear.

The mil­i­tary branches had yet to re­lease pro­to­cols for what are known as “ac­ces­sions,” or the process of ac­cept­ing new ser­vice mem­bers. Two cadets who came out as trans­gen­der — one while en­rolled at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Academy and one at the U.S. Air Force Academy — grad­u­ated but were de­nied com­mis­sions in May.

In June, the Pen­tagon pushed back the dead­line for de­vel­op­ing an ac­ces­sion plan an­other six months. Since the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, some ad­vo­cates have ex­pressed fear trans­gen­der rights might be rolled back.

Brynn Tan­nehill, a trans­gen­der Naval Academy alum and di­rec­tor of ad­vo­cacy for the group SPARTA (Ser­vice Mem­bers, Part­ners, Al­lies for Re­spect and Tol­er­ance for All), of­fered Kibby the only ad­vice she could. “Make your­self in­dis­pens­able,” she told Kibby. “You’re go­ing to have to work twice as hard to get the re­spect you de­serve.” Tan­nehill spoke from ex­pe­ri­ence: Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, she served as a naval avi­a­tor for 10 years be­fore re­tir­ing from ser­vice to tran­si­tion and to ad­vo­cate on be­half of trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers.

Kibby fol­lowed Tan­nehill’s ad­vice: com­plet­ing cred­its for a dou­ble ma­jor, play­ing the bag­pipe for Pipes and Drums, tak­ing on lead­er­ship po­si­tions in Spec­trum. Days at the academy be­gin with 7 a.m. for­ma­tion and of­ten don’t end un­til past 2 a.m.

There were mo­ments when Kibby felt ex­hausted and dis­cour­aged, not know­ing if all the ap­point­ments and con­sul­ta­tions would ever come to any­thing. But he never thought about giv­ing up. “I just thought I could fly un­der the radar, grad­u­ate, and serve my coun­try like I al­ways planned to,” he says. And when his tran­si­tion plan fi­nally re­ceived ap­proval, it all seemed worth it.

He wouldn’t have to make a choice be­tween two fun­da­men­tal parts of his iden­tity.

He started search­ing for clin­ics that pro­vide trans­gen­der ser­vices and that ac­cept Tri­care, the mil­i­tary’s health in­sur­ance. He found one. He planned to sched­ule an ap­point­ment.

And then, on Wed­nes­day, an email from a pro­fes­sor of­fer­ing com­fort and sup­port. With­out ask­ing what the pro­fes­sor meant, Kibby Googled “trans­gen­der mil­i­tary.” He saw the tweet.

“It was dev­as­tat­ing,” Kibby says. “I’m very likely not go­ing to be able to con­tinue my education, the path that I planned for my life.” No mat­ter what hap­pens, he’ll con­tinue with the tran­si­tion process.

With­out guide­lines from the Pen­tagon, McKin­ney could not say whether Kibby would be al­lowed to re­turn to the Academy or re­ceive a com­mis­sion. Spokes­men at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy said they did not know of any cur­rently en­rolled trans­gen­der cadets at their schools.

Ri­ley Dosh, the trans­gen­der cadet who grad­u­ated from the U.S. Mil­i­tary Academy in May, now feels lit­tle hope she’ll ever earn her com­mis­sion.

Since grad­u­at­ing, she had been look­ing for work while await­ing clar­i­fi­ca­tion of ac­ces­sion poli­cies that might al­low her to earn her com­mis­sion.

“[The tweet] kind of sig­naled the end for me,” she says. Right now, she’s fo­cus­ing on ad­vo­cat­ing for the trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers al­ready on ac­tive duty. As for Kibby? He went to the gym. Just like ev­ery other af­ter­noon. “I’m still a mem­ber of the mil­i­tary,” he says. “Right now, I’ll keep my rou­tine.”

“I just thought I could fly un­der the radar, grad­u­ate, and serve my coun­try like I al­ways planned to.” Re­gan Kibby, U.S. Naval Academy mid­ship­man

PHOTO BY SARAH KIBBY

U.S. Naval Academy mid­ship­man Re­gan Kibby, left, re­unites with his younger sis­ter Elena Kibby and mother, Taw­nia Kibby, at Plebe Par­ents Week­end. In wake of Trump’s tweet, his fu­ture is un­clear.

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