Donald Trump's ban 'made me feel like I'd been punched in the gut', says transgender soldier

Once again, she and others like her are wondering if their jobs will be ripped away from them

Clark Mindock
New York
Thursday 27 July 2017 23:04 BST
An Army crewman is seen on a military plane in Afghanistan
An Army crewman is seen on a military plane in Afghanistan (Getty Images)

When Elaina Odom saw that Donald Trump had announced that the military would no longer allow transgender people to serve in the military, she was devastated.

Less than a year after the Pentagon had announced that people like her — those who identify with a different gender from the one assigned at birth — would be accepted by the military that they had chosen to risk their lives for, the president of the United States had signaled that she and other transgender people in the armed services were, in fact, expendable in the eyes of the military.

“It hit hard. I felt like someone had just punched me in the gut that we could so easily be dismissed from our service,” Ms Odom told The Independent. “That people would think that we’re that much of a burden. That we’re a financial burden on the military.”

Mr Trump announced through several tweets this week that, after having consulted with the US generals and military experts, the United States military would no longer allow transgender people to serve in the armed forces. The surprising announcement came months before his armed forces were required to finish a review of transgender policies in the military. Details around what he meant with his tweets, were scarce.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US Military,” Mr Trump 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. Thank you.”

Sergeant Odom, 30, has been an active duty member of the US Army for 11 years, a time during which she risked her life in Afghanistan, and rerooted her family several times to be stationed all over the world from North Carolina to South Korea and back.

For most of that service, she identified — at least outwardly — as a man. But, she decided to be honest with her self, her colleagues, and the world two years ago. In a massive Facebook post explaining who she was and why she was planning a transition, Ms Odom came out as transgender.

She says that coming out has transformed her life in more ways than the obvious. Once a heavy drinker, she says that being honest about herself has helped her to calm that habit. Once easily upset, she says she has been a more positive person since then.

“I’ve had a positive mental attitude change,” she said. “I went from being very negative, to being positive. I actually have gotten to where I don’t drink. I’m not having as many issues as before.”

She says that she hasn’t noticed any difference in her workload since coming out — she has always been a busy worker, and her superiors have no issue with taking advantage of that drive — and that many of her colleagues who sought to distance themselves from her after her announcement have lightened up a bit.

And, things were made better by the announcement last year by the Obama administration that transgender people would be catching a break. That announcement signalled that the US military — which has as many as 15,500 transgender soldiers, by some of the larger estimates — would move to consider allowing people who are already transgender to join

But, any added relief that announcement may have provided was dashed by Mr Trump’s four tweets. Instead of a sigh of relief that they won’t arbitrarily lose their job based upon the fact that they associate with a gender they weren’t assigned at birth, transgender people in the military are once again on edge. How far does Mr Trump intend to go with his pull back on rights in the military? Will I lose my family? How will I provide for my family if so?

Ms Odom, who is married with three children, notes that the US military hasn’t actually received any directives from the White House to change existing transgender policy — a tweet is just a tweet. But, she says she’s preparing herself for the worst case scenario from a president who has been all over the map on some issues.

“With as long as I’ve been in this, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected, and prepare for it,” she said, when asked if she was worried that openly transgender people would be ejected from the military. “I’m not going to say that’s what is going to happen. I would like to hope for the best, but at the same time I have to prepare for the worst possible outcome.”

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