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San Diego Transgender Vet On The Military's New Policy

Joselyn Harris, board president, San Diego Human Dignity Foundation
San Diego Human Dignity Foundation
Joselyn Harris, board president, San Diego Human Dignity Foundation

San Diego Transgender Vet On The Military’s New Policy
San Diego Transgender Vet On The Military's New Policy GUEST: Joselyn Harris, board president, San Diego Human Dignity Foundation

Last month the tent on overturned one of the last bans on US military service by allowing transgender personnel to serve openly. Each branch of the service was given 90 days to develop a guidebook of procedures to implement the new policy. It is estimated that about 7000 transgender people serve in the military and the reserves though activists works towards lifting the band say many more have served in silence. I spoke with Jocelyn Harris who is a transgender veteran who served in Vietnam. She is a current board of the San Diego human dignity foundation. I started by asking her about her reaction to the lifting of the band. Cement one thing that I felt is that I was jealous and envious because I would have loved to do that. But at the same time it was kind of a gay experience. Yes. We are finally moving through that and most of the culture that has been integrated into the military -- it has been a step forward for the you're talking about when Truman integrated with African-American troops into the military, with white troops. It helps move things forward and I think it will do the same thing for transgender folks. Now you served in the Army during the Vietnam War and at that time were struggling with your gender identity. How did you cope with that? Not well. Terry honestly not well. Basically because I'd new where I was out on the gender scale, I hid. I wanted to make sure that the world thought I was the man and the manliest man I could ever be and that was one of the reasons I went in the military although I came from a military background. I wanted to prove my manliness. And so that was one of the things that I did. To be able to do that. Do you think now being able to serve openly will change the way that someone in your position could actually serve? Yes. I think one of the things that I felt when I did get out of the military and people realized that I was transgender that even though I had been in the military, I was unpatriotic. And I think that a lot of -- I think a lot of young people today that are patriotic and there is a lot of transgender folks that are highly patriotic that love this country and they do feel oppressed but they know that this country has done better by different cultures and different races and ethnicities and sexual orientations than most, so they want to serve their country and help make it a better place to live. What was in your case that made you decide that enough was enough and you have to be your authentic self? It took a long time. It is really funny because although I was living as a woman, I was still trans-phobic. I did not want to be part of the transgender community. I did not want to be considered transgender. I wanted to be considered female and that was it. And that does not actually happen in today's world with young transgender folks that are coming up. They are more open to being exactly who they are. And I think that is great. I think that is wonderful and I think that they will move forward in the military as in life and have a better journey than some of us older folks. So one city says there are as many as 7000 transgender people serving in the Armed Forces. Do you think that the number of transgender people in listing will significantly go up now that the Pentagon has lifted the ban? I think that more folks would be identified as being transgender. I think the number of 7000 is probably low which we have always found when we have had cultural changes within any group of people is that once they are allowed to be open and they are welcomed, there is a lot of folks out there that will come forward so I believe that there are a lot more transgender folks in the military then we know about now and I think it will increase the numbers. Apparently the full plan to begin in listing transgendered troops will be in place by July 2017 but I understand that there are some people in the transgender community that are a bit concerned about how the policy will actually be implemented -- how it will be rolled out basic criteria that will be used. I think the way and looking through what the criteria over the last week -- looking at the criteria for who is transgender -- how that person presents -- it is a work in progress. And it will take time. It will be those items that give character to transgender person will probably change as it goes along. I have several concerns on how that is done in what the initial items are -- characteristics are for transgender people. How would you like to see be done? I think that most of the problem with transgender folks -- unlike sexual orientation -- gender identity is who the person is. In their sole. And not as much about surgical changes or hormonal changes that are put forth. It is about who that person is in their sole. What of the policies that I have read -- that people within the military are going to be able to get surgical transition that if they are already in the military -- but those folks that are coming in will have not have the opportunity to get the military to pay for their surgical transition. I think that is something that will going to have to change because as we all know -- transgender folks are coming out younger and younger and younger so a lot of these people who are transgender will not have the opportunity for surgical transition before they go into the military and maybe they won't have the opportunity for hormonal transition. So those are two things that have to be looked at. Would you say to somebody who is in the military and has a certain amount of trepidation from serving with someone who is openly transgender? You have to take that person for who they are. And I understand some of the concerns about someone that would be serving in combat with somebody who is transgender and does not have that possible military aggressive nature -- well, I am here to tell you transgender those can be as aggressive as anybody else and it is just like when transgender women and transgender man can now look and see that women are serving in combat -- that really does not have anything to do with their ability to fight and their ability to lead. On the other hand would you say to someone who is transgender is now preparing to serve openly in the military any advice? The one thing that I have always done -- when I became openly transgender -- I let people know -- I will treat you with dignity and respect if you treat me with dignity and respect. Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse into this complex, there's this complex topic. Thank you for joining us.

Last week, Department of Defense Secretary Ash Carter lifted the military’s ban on transgender troops serving openly in U.S. armed forces.

The department has until July 1, 2017 to fully implement its policy on transgender service members.


There are as many as 7,000 transgender troops serving in the military out of 1.3 million active duty service members, according to a study by the Rand Corporation.

Joselyn Harris, a transgender woman from San Diego who served in Vietnam, says there are many unanswered questions about the military’s new policy.

Harris discusses what it was like to serve under the ban and what she hopes the military’s new policy can achieve Thursday on KPBS Midday Edition.