Memorial Day weekend is, first and foremost, about remembering those
who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It honors the many sacrifices of
those who served and who are currently serving. It lifts up families
and friends who have lost loved ones to combat and in the line of
duty. It recognizes the best our nation had and has to offer.
Last week, as I have on every Memorial Day spent in D.C., I joined
thousands of people who visited Arlington National Cemetery to honor
our fallen brothers and sisters by putting some flowers on graves and
placing flags. This year I visited a fallen brother from my home
state of North Carolina. He was member of the U.S. Army Military
Police Corps, just like I am. I’ve never had the honor of deploying.
He did, though, and never made it back.
He lost his life to an IED blast in Iraq, and I attended his funeral
back in July of 2011. Last week, I returned to his plot in Section 60
of Arlington National Cemetery during the early afternoon hours to pay
As I approached Section 60, I noticed a large crowd of people
gathering and several black SUV’s. I wasn’t really paying attention to
what was going on around me; I was focused on visiting my fallen
comrade. The crowd grew as I got closer to his plot. I noticed
security officers were present and quickly realized something was
going on. Finally, I saw him.
President Barack Obama greets visitors in Section 60 at Arlington
National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.,on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27,
2013. Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are buried in Section 60. (AP
Photo / Molly Riley)
[Photo: President Barack Obama greets visitors in Section 60 at
Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va.,on Memorial Day, Monday,
May 27, 2013. Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are buried in Section
60. (AP Photo / Molly Riley) ]
President Barack Obama. Standing less than five feet away from me.
Flashbulbs were going off all around me. Cries of, “Mr. President! Mr.
President!” clamored for his attention. Eventually I couldn’t go any
further – the crowd and the security were too thick. And then I
realized I was face to face with my Commander-in- Chief.
I was wearing my ACU uniform. My nametape, D.C. National Guard unit
patch, rank, and American flag were proudly displayed where he could
see them. The President looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and
thanked me for my service. He called me “sir” and “young man.” My hand
was shaking afterward, and to be honest, my eyes got a bit teary. I
thought to myself, I will remember this, as long as I live, as one of
the most profoundly meaningful moments of my life. It only lasted a
moment, but even now it’s hard to believe it happened.
I eventually made it to my comrade’s grave site. I spent some time
there praying. I prayed for his family, for his unit members. I wished
his family could have been there to get that handshake from the
President, and so much more.
Now, with LGBT Pride Month upon us I can’t help but think about
something else. The President shook my hand and thanked me for my
service. He called me “sir” and “young man.” I wonder what he would
say or do if he knew I was transgender. How would he react if he knew
that when I enlisted in the Army just over 4 years ago, I had not
enlisted as the “young man” that I had always known myself to be. What
if he knew that during basic training a thick bun of curly hair rested
under my combat helmet and beret, or that during Advanced Individual
Training in September 2010 I came out as transgender and decided to
live my life authentically, full time as man. What would he say then?
What would he do?
Despite the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) in December,
2010, nothing has changed for me. The repeal allowed lesbian, gay, and
bisexual service members to serve with integrity. However,
transgender service members still face discharge if they come out or
are outed. I am one of them.
I have served honorably for four years. I’ve always gotten along with
my chain of command, never failed a PT test, and when I first
enlisted, planned on dedicating 20 years of service to this great
country. Being a soldier was all I ever wanted to do, since I was a
When Pentagon leaders released a statement on May 31 to commemorate
LGBT Pride Month, they noted the service, accomplishments, and
devotion to duty of transgender Department of Defense civilians. They
clearly and purposefully left out transgender service members –
service members like me.
What would President Obama have said when he shook my hand if he had
known that very day could have been my last in uniform, my last as a
Soldier? How would the President have responded if I had told him I
wanted to serve 20 years, or that I dreamt of re-classing to become a
helicopter mechanic and a crew chief – but those dreams were being
taken from me just because of who I am?
And what would he do if he knew I wasn’t alone? That there are so many
of us, all hoping and praying together that we can serve openly before
time runs out for us, one way or another. What if I’d said, “This
isn’t just my story Mr. President. It is my friends’ story, my
brothers’ story, and my sisters’ story.”
I know how President Obama feels about lesbian, gay, and bisexual
service members. He’s been very clear about that. But I wonder what he
thinks about the policies that bar transgender people from serving
openly. For now, I can only hope that one day the President will say
the words “transgender” and “service” in the same sentence, just like
I hope that one all day service members will be able to serve
honorably and openly and be judged by their capabilities, dedication,
and honor, rather than their gender identity.
If I had gotten another 15 seconds with the President, maybe I would
have asked him. Maybe then I would know what he would say to Soldiers
The author of this blog must remain anonymous, since transgender
service members are prohibited from serving openly in America’s