#ProtectTransTroops: a guest post by Ben Collongues
This is a guest blog post by Ben Collongues of Southern Transmasculine Alliance and Louisiana Trans Advocates.
I enlisted to serve in the U.S. Navy in June of 2011 and shipped off to boot camp at Recruit Training Command in Great Lakes, IL in January 2012. After completing boot camp, A-school, and C-school, (14 months of training) to be an Aviation Electronics Technician (AT), I was assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1) at NAS Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor, WA. During my enlistment, I completed five detachments, two of which were in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. As an Aviation Electronics Technician, I was responsible for the troubleshooting and repair of aircraft communication, navigation, and mission systems. On detachments, I was one of three people on my maintenance crew trained to work on these components that were vital to provide support to missions coordinated with commands in the Navy, as well as with other entities in our country’s branches of the military.
I had just under nine months left of Active Duty service when my Commanding Officer called an all hands to inform everyone in my squadron of the new policies going into effect regarding the recent announcement that transgender Americans may openly serve in the military (June 2016). At the time, I hadn’t come to terms with my own transition; I served as an open lesbian. I began to socially transition with a few members of family and my partner at the time in January of 2017 and lived a double life for the remaining month and a half of my enlistment.
I didn’t become transgender. I have always been transgender, but only became aware of it two years ago. I struggled with my identity because I was not living out my life authentically. Despite this, I received above average scores on my performance evaluations, which led to expeditious pay grade advancements. I was also awarded two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement medals. None of that is said to brag, but to say that I was recognized as an asset to the Navy. When I announced that I would not be re-enlisting my superiors approached me daily, in hopes of convincing me to reconsider. I recall one saying, “You’re great for the Navy.”
To ban transgender Americans from serving is unacceptable. This discrimination is part of what contributes to elevated rates of unemployment, homelessness, and suicide in the transgender community. These service members put on their pants one leg at a time and lace their boots just like every other person who’s signed a contract to defend this nation. They are resilient. Their transitions do not make them damaged nor less qualified. Trans rights are human rights.
Southern Transmasculine Alliance
Louisiana Trans Advocates
Support trans service members. Call your Congressional representative (find out who they are here) and ask them to support H.R. 1032, the bipartisan House bill that will ensure transgender people can serve without discrimination.