Reversing the transgender military ban changes everything – I've been waiting 18 years
Joe Biden reversed the transgender military ban on Monday (January 25) – a landmark moment for the LGBTQ community.
The bill, which was enacted by Donald Trump, created a culture of fear, forcing trans patriots to hide their identity while serving. In other cases, it prevented individuals from joining the military altogether.
Now, transgender personnel are able to live openly, and serve their nation under their true identity. Speaking to Four Nine about the landmark overruling, Paulo Baptista – who identifies as a trans man – says he is overjoyed: "I popped open a bottle last night."
'Everything was lost after the transgender military ban'
Enlisting in the military has been Paulo's dream for 18 years.
The 36-year-old, who transitioned 10 years ago, fell in love with the idea of joining the armed forces after participating in Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) programmes whilst in high school. "I knew it was for me," he says. And while he hoped to pursue it after leaving education, this had to be put on hold as his father was in the midst of battling cancer.
"In my heart, I knew I would have another opportunity later in life to join the military," he tells me. "So at the time, I chose my father."
After his father passed away, Paulo made a full transition to be his authentic self, armed with the knowledge that a career in the military would be available after he was "settled". At that point, he explains, President Barack Obama was actively showing support to the trans community.
However, right as he was preparing to enlist, Donald Trump backpedalled on progress, and announced his plans to implement a trans military ban. "I didn't think I'd have to fight again, you know?" Paulo recounts. "When the ban hit, everything was lost."
The impact of Trump's administration
Trump first tweeted about banning trans military service in July of 2017. He wrote: "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail [sic]."
As well as creating a culture of fear amongst the 15,000 trans personnel enlisted in the US military at the time, Trump's comments – and eventual policy – further marginalised the trans community.
Transgender people are twice as likely to be victims of crime than cisgendered people in England and Wales, according to the Guardian. While there is no similar data collection effort in the US, in the first seven months of 2020, the number of transgender individuals suspected of being murdered surpassed the total for all of 2019.
Paulo comments: "It imposed a lot of fear. And being post-transition for 10 years, I lived in that kind of fear for a long time before Trump's administration.
"His ban made us sound like we're a medical condition, and we're not. [Trans military personnel] don't have mental instabilities. Did we in our past? That's to each and every one of our own. Who hasn't had past issues?"
Overturning the transgender military ban
As Paulo is 36-years-old, Trump's policy directly impeded his aspirations to enlist in the navy as the cut off age is 39.
Speaking on Monday evening, he tells me: "It's now or never. Once the news broke, it was 'go time'. Let's be honest, I've only got one shot, really." Paulo has, after all, been waiting 18 years to get to this point.
Still, he concedes that Biden overturning the ban doesn't change a history of anti-trans sentiment in America. "It's going to be a bit of a battle. There are still many people that voted for Trump. But Biden has made it prominent that this is the first step to unity and recovery. And I agree."
For him, the next step, is continuing to educate those who hold prejudice towards the LGBTQ+ community. "They live in fear too – but if you have the correct knowledge, it disappears," Paulo explains, citing his work with The Trans Family Support Services. The non-profit seeks to educate the families of trans youth, as well as training schools and companies in gender competency.
Looking towards the future
Paulo's age and experience means that he will also be able to impart his wisdom to young trans personnel, who may be in the midst of transitioning. "Having transitioned back in 2010, I can bring knowledge to the table to help other [trans soldiers]," he explains. "I have the outside sources, my work with non-profits and medical teams. I know the requirements and paperwork we have to provide.
"Already, I can see it coming. I'm gonna be seen by these newbies as the father figure. I'll be all like 'I need you guys to save your bonuses. I wish I would've known this at 18... Trust me'."
Ultimately, in spite of a turbulent few years in America, Paulo still holds love for his country. And he stresses to me that he will be proud to serve.
"I am fighting for the part of the country that my community holds," Paulo adds. "Coming from an immigrant family, I've seen the love that my father had for the country that allowed him to become an entrepreneur and raise his family. I'm always going to be a full-blooded American.
"It brings tears to my eyes that I can see an army sergeant in his full blues, holding his husband's hand proudly. I want to be able to do that as a for a trans soldier. Why can't I stand up here just as proud?"