By Landon Marchant
July 27, 2017
Growing up, no one explicitly told me military service meant respect. They didn’t have to.
American flags flew in countless yards, including my own. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited each morning. Military recruiters knew my high school classmates by name and asked us about athletics and classes. Sporting events began with the national anthem. Military veterans had gainful employment. My evangelical upbringing stressed the importance of selfless service, of setting aside personal desires for the sake of a greater cause.
The only thing louder than the importance of service was the silence around LGBTQ identities. My public school teachers made herculean efforts to support their LGBTQ students, but for me — then, a teen girl struggling with gender identity and sexual orientation — there was no outweighing the influence of religion in my community. Deceived by Satan. Destined to have an unsuccessful life, unemployable, only lovable within certain parameters. There was no respect given, once I came out as queer — just the hollow repetition of “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
I needed to be straight and gender-conforming, in order to be accepted.
In hindsight, it is no surprise that I gravitated to the military. I wanted out of my home town in Greenleaf, Wis. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to learn a trade, because skilled labor inevitably finds employment. I wanted something that would force me to be straight and gender-conforming. In some idealistic way, I was searching for respect.
The Air Force and its core values of “integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do” promised me all of this and more.
I am a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. I am transgender. My story is not unique.
The U.S. military employs as many as 15,500 active duty, National Guard and National Reserve transgender troops, according to a Williams Institute study, which could make it the largest employer of transgender Americans. The research institute also estimated there are 134,000 transgender veterans. Transgender people face higher rates of homelessness, unemployment and health-care discrimination than the average civilian population, and military service can offer economic stability and a sense of purpose. By the Williams Institute estimate, transgender people are twice as likely to serve in the military as their cisgender peers.