Sandeen was the only transgender person among the six veterans arrested in April while protesting the military's ban on openly gay troops. But when she watched President Barack Obama last month sign the hard-fought bill allowing for the ban's repeal, melancholy tinged her satisfaction.
"This is another bridesmaid moment for the transgender community," the 51-year-old San Diego resident said.
The "don't ask, don't tell" policy now heading toward history does not apply to transgender recruits, who are automatically disqualified as unfit for service. But the military's long-standing posture on gender-identity has not prevented transgender citizens from signing up before they come out, or from obtaining psychological counseling, hormones and routine health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs once they return to civilian life.
So as the Pentagon prepares to welcome openly gay, lesbian and bisexual service members for the first time, Sandeen is not alone in hoping the United States will one day join the seven other nations - Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Israel, the Czech Republic, Thailand and Australia - that allow transgender troops.
"There is really no question, it's just a matter of when," said former Army Capt. Allyson Robinson, 40, a 1994 West Point graduate who has spoken to sociology classes at the alma mater she attended as a male cadet. "There are active-duty, as well as reserve and national guard transgender service members, serving today."
No one knows how many transgender people are serving or have served. Neither the Department of Defense nor the VA keep statistics on how many service members have been discharged or treated for transgender conditions or conduct.
The Transgender American Veterans Association, an advocacy group founded in 2003, estimates there could be as many as 300,000 transgender people among the nation's 26 million veterans.
When 50 TAVA members laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier six years ago, representatives from every U.S. conflict since World War II were there, said former Navy Machinist Mate First Class Monica Helms, the group's co-founder and president.
Most had spent years, if not decades, as veterans before they could acknowledge the mismatches between their brains and their bodies. Helms, 59, spent four years in the engine room of a nuclear submarine during the Vietnam War, but did not start living as Monica until 1997.
Military regulations state that men and women who identify with or present a gender different from their sex at birth have mental conditions that make them ineligible to serve. Those who have undergone genital surgery are listed as having physical abnormalities. Service members caught cross-dressing on base have been court-martialed for interfering with "good order and discipline," according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Until the American Psychiatric Association removes Gender Identity Disorder from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, as it did for homosexuality in 1973, that's likely to remain the case, Sandeen said.
Source has the complete article.