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Pentagon Acknowledges GLBs in Uniform for Pride -- But Not Trans Servicemembers

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jun 4, 2013
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In the scant two and a half years since the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," the antigay policy that excluded out GLBTs from service in uniform, America’s military culture has adapted easily and without incident to the integration of gays and lesbians who can now serve their country without having to lie, by omission or outright, about who they are.

But that integration is not as yet entirely complete: Trans servicemembers are still subject to dismissal. That fact was glossed over even as it was pointed up in a May 31 Pentagon memo that offered recognition to LGBs in uniform, and trans civilians, reported Metro Weekly’s Poliglot column on June 3.

"The Department of Defense (DoD) joins the Nation in celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month during the month of June," reads the memo, authored by Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity Director Clarence Johnson.

"We recognize gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers and LGBT civilians for their dedicated service to our country," the memo added, going on to note that "Each year of his administration, President Obama has issued a proclamation recognizing that our national security is strengthened by the heroic contributions these Americans make to our Department, and have made throughout our history.

"The LGBT community has written a proud chapter in this fundamentally American story by reminding us that integrity and respect remain corner stones of our military and civilian culture."

The memo’s failure to acknowledge the service of trans military members rankled equality leaders, including OutServe-SLDN head Allyson Robinson, the Poliglot article noted.

"Transgender people have served this nation with pride, honor, and distinction - and continue to do so in the hundreds, if not thousands," Robinson, a trans veteran, said in a statement.

""It’s past time to honor them for their service and sacrifice, and past time to end the discredited and obsolete practice of forcing them to serve in silence and fear," Robinson added.

The memo’s release preceded by mere days the release of a memoir written by a transgender member of SEAL Team 6 -- the elite military group that killed Osama bin Laden.

Kristen Beck (formerly Chris Beck) was a member of SEAL Team 6 until she retired from the military in 2011, after two decades as a SEAL. After her retirement, Beck began the physical transition that would allow her to match her female self-conception to her formerly male body. Her memoir, "Warrior Princess," co-written with Anne Speckhard, features a photo of a heavily bearded Beck in fatigues.

Salon.com reported on the new memoir on June 3, and speculated that the book could kick start a final phase in the military’s process of becoming fully integrated.

"Beck’s honest discussion of her gender identity, which she grappled with for years while in the military, is a major first, and could clear the way for others to come out with their own stories," the Salon.com article said.

The Salon article referred to a June 3 article at Atlantic Wire that reported on the supportive messages Beck received from her former colleagues. After she posted a photo of herself in feminine attire online, an excerpt from Beck’s memoir recounts, "the responses from SEALs stationed all around the world suddenly started pouring in."

They were messages of congratulations, Beck writes.

" ’Brother, I am with you,’ " one fellow SEAL wrote, according to Beck’s memoir. " ’[B]eing a SEAL is hard, this looks harder.’ "

Wrote another SEAL, "I can’t say I understand the decision but I respect the courage," another wrote. "Peace and happiness be upon you."

"Having retired a few months before SEALs dispatched Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Beck’s memoir is also something of a welcome relief from the proliferating genre of Navy SEAL memoirs, particularly those centered on the details of the bin Laden raid," the Atlantic Wire article said.

The Atlantic Wire article quoted Speckhard as writing that Beck did not identify as gay while living as a man -- a common misperception about trans individuals. Unlike gays and lesbians, trans people have a deep, innate, and ineradicable sense that though they may the body of one gender, their inner identity belongs to the other gender.

Trans individuals often begin to express their gender identities at very young ages, indicating preferences for the garments, toys, and activities typically associated with members of the opposite physical gender.

While Beck, typically for transgender people, did not identify as gay, "he also didn’t feel he was a man, so he didn’t really know how to negotiate a sexual relationship whilst in a man’s body," Speckhard wrote. "He was lost-with no maps, no compass, and no guide."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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