Panelists at Pacific see 'culture of violence' in military against those who don't conform

                         The U.S. military employs an estimated 15,000 transgender people, meaning any plan to ban transgender soldiers could disrupt thousands of lives, not to mention the military itself.

So said Joshua Boyer, a Pacific University student and U.S. military veteran, and Chase Doremus from Basic Rights Oregon, when the two spoke about the issue Tuesday, Nov. 7, during a panel sponsored by Pacific's Center for Gender Equity.

The issue surfaced nationally after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. military would no longer allow transgender people to enlist and serve.

In response to a lawsuit brought by transgender military service members, Federal Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly temporarily blocked the ban Monday, Oct. 30, citing "inequality" and noting that "studies, conclusions and judgment of the military itself" contradicted Trump's claims that allowing transgender people to serve causes "disruption" and burdens the military with "tremendous medical costs."

Kollar-Kotelly's decision has given some sense of relief, Doremus told the roughly 40 attendees. But there are "still a lot of people wondering if they'll have a job next month."

According to various sources, the U.S. Defense Department is the largest employer of transgender people in the nation.

Doremus learned a lot about "discipline, courage and thoughtfulness" from a brother, uncle, parents, grandparents, who all served in the military.

That's why the proposed ban announcement "hit me on a few levels," Doremus said. "It's just one more hit that excludes trans people and tells them they aren't welcome."

Rules that take away rights from transgender people specifically send the message that "we don't deserve to exist," Doremus said, citing a statistic that more than 40 percent of transgender people will attempt suicide at least once in their life.

Boyer, who is not transgender, served in the military before enrolling at Pacific to study social work with the dream of providing care to veterans like himself. As a gay man, Boyer particularly wants to serve LGBTQ veterans.

While serving in the military, Boyer witnessed a culture of violence not only against "the enemy" but also against "people who don't conform."

The reality, he said, is that LGBTQ people are still at risk for being called names such as "fag" at best and beaten or killed at worst. That's still happening and is "part of the military culture," which is very resistant to change, he said.

Boyer served as a public affairs specialist, he said, and "the image of the military is highly regulated. They only let you see what they want you to see."

It's also still true, Boyer said, that many men still don't believe women should be allowed in the military. "Many believe it should be a masculine men's military."

Transgender and gay people have always served in the military and have also always found a way to hide it if necessary, Boyer said. But when people can't speak out against sexual assault, for example, because they're afraid their sexuality or gender identity will come out in the process, that makes people vulnerable to abuse.

The controversy about banning transgender people is a huge distraction for those trying to do their military jobs, Boyer said. With an estimated 15,000 transgender folks enlisted in the military, banning them would create a huge gap, Doremus said.

Claims that allowing transgender people would disrupt unit cohesion are also "nonsense," according to Doremus. Instead, allowing transgender people who are qualified and skilled and who want to serve would actually benefit the military.

"I see a lot of opportunity being lost," said Boyer, because "brilliant young minds" may not consider joining the military with this ban or other discriminatory practices in place.

One audience member asked how people who aren't directly related to the military can help.

Besides voting and contacting congressmen, Doremus said, "try to create a world where it feels possible for trans folks to create a prosperous, happy, successful life."

By Stephanie Haugen
Reporter, Forest Grove News-Times
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