Transgender Military Recruits Wait For Policy Changes To Be Formalized
NOEL KING, HOST:
A few weeks ago, President Biden signed an executive order allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. armed forces. Now, there are people who have been waiting years to enlist, and now they're being told you need to wait a little longer. Here's Carson Frame from Texas Public Radio.
CARSON FRAME, BYLINE: In 2017, Drew Garza, a 20-year-old from Corpus Christi, Texas, put his military ambitions on ice. He'd come out as trans early in high school. At age 16, he was already preparing to enlist. He worked out. He took practice versions of the military's aptitude test. Then President Trump banned new transgender recruits.
DREW GARZA: You know, I wanted to speak to a recruiter around 16, 17, and that's when the tweets came out and then the ban came out. So everything kind of just went like, OK, it's not going to work out, at least not right now.
FRAME: It was a big blow. Garza comes from a long line of service members. Joining up felt like a rite of passage and a way of embracing his new identity. So even as he began hormone treatments and had surgery, he became a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the ban. But as it made its way through the courts, Garza had no choice but to wait.
GARZA: And ever since then, I've kind of just been not putting my life on hold, but I haven't really started anything that would be like this is the path I'm going down.
FRAME: He got a job in IT, practiced his pullups and mostly kept to himself. But things shifted when President Biden lifted the ban in late January.
GARZA: And then, I kid you not, I had an Army recruiter message me, and then a Marine recruiter followed. And then just yesterday, an Air Force recruiter contacted me. And I was like, yes (laughter). I take it to mean, like, now I'm being seen.
FRAME: Despite political controversy over whether transgender troops affect the readiness of the service, the recruiters who contacted Garza were eager to bring him in. Garza is thrilled to have options, but he and many other transgender young people still await the Defense Department's formal policy, which will lay out the requirements and rules for their service.
BREE FRAM: What we're really telling people is get ready.
FRAME: That's Bree Fram. She's an Air Force aeronautical engineer and head of the military transgender organization SPART*A [see POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION below]. Fram tells would-be enlistees to hold off from going to recruiting stations because there's still no way to process them in.
FRAM: As soon as the policy actually comes out, you need to read it, understand it, and you're probably going to have to help educate your recruiter on it 'cause it's going to be new to them as well.
FRAME: Fram says she expects the Pentagon to come out with a new policy in fairly short order. She thinks it will borrow heavily from the rules that were in place under the Obama administration. However the policy comes down, SPART*A says its priorities will remain the same. The organization wants to reduce the bureaucratic burden on transgender troops, push for equal medical treatment and make sure transgender people are treated the same way across the services.
FRAM: And if we can get people in the door, start utilizing their talents and then evolve the policy over time, long-term, I think we're going to have more of a positive impact.
FRAME: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo that he'll consult with senior civilian and military leaders over 60 days in order to develop policies in keeping with President Biden's order. For now, the military branches are trying to work with the uncertainty.
Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston was asked about transgender service in a town hall last month. He said until more guidance comes down, the Army will operate under the Trump administration policy.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MICHAEL GRINSTON: It does take us some time to review the policy. I mean, we had a policy in 2016 that changed. Whatever policy we have, that is still in effect, but it doesn't mean we're not going to look at it.
FRAME: As for Drew Garza, there's just one more thing to take care of before he can enlist.
GARZA: Only thing disqualifying me currently would be that I am just a few pounds overweight (laughter), but I'm a really stocky guy. So obviously, muscle weighs more than fat. And I'm actually only six pounds over, which is awesome. I can do that. I can work with that.
FRAME: For NPR News, I'm Carson Frame in San Antonio.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio of this story, we incorrectly identify Bree Fram as the head of SPART*A. She is the group's vice president.]
(SOUNDBITE OF SOULAR ORDER'S "KEYFRAMES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.