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Army Sergeant Parses High Court Ruling Regarding Transgender Service Members


The Supreme Court ruled this week that the Trump administration can, for now, enforce a ban on many transgender military personnel. The president announced that ban on Twitter in 2017. The Pentagon effort to refine his tweet into policy is being challenged in court. And the justices say the policy may go into effect while the court challenges proceed.

Army Staff Sergeant Patricia King is among those affected. She has served in the military for almost two decades, received much attention in recent years as a transgender woman in the years when President Obama's administration was allowing transgender personnel to serve. Before her transition, she was deployed to Afghanistan three times.

PATRICIA KING: My second trip to Afghanistan was in 2003. And it was one of the most life-altering experiences for me. And the reason I say that is we had the opportunity, when we were there, to see the difference that had been made in the short time from our occupation to 2003. I saw women driving cars. I saw children going to school, and I saw the difference that we had the opportunity to make. And that sat with me.

INSKEEP: How did you identify at that time?

KING: At the time, I had not come out, even to myself. So I still identified as a male. And I was wrestling with the feelings that I was having. I felt like I was stuck in the wrong body. But this was at the birth of Google. There was no Internet search history to find an understanding. There were very few books. So I didn't have an understanding of the feelings I was having.

INSKEEP: When did your thoughts clarify?

KING: Towards the end of that decade, towards around 2010, I started to understand what it was. I understood that this is not something that's just going to go away. But I was married, happily so. And at that point in time, what I had decided was that I was going to repress these feelings. I had made the assumption that my family would not be accepting, that I couldn't just end one life and start another as a different person.

INSKEEP: And you decided on a different course when?

KING: Towards the end of my most recent deployment in 2014, my wife and I decided the best course for us was to dissolve our marriage. And in that moment, I had the opportunity to make a decision about what I wanted the rest of my life to look like. Through a lot of thought and a lot of prayer, I made the decision that I was going to come out and start a transition. And then it was time to come out at work.

Now, the Army was not yet at a point where we had changed our policy. So coming out at work was a risky thing. But I knew that being authentic to myself was important. So I came out to my leaders and my peers in the Army.

INSKEEP: And then President Obama did change the policy for a while. Is that correct?

KING: Yes, shortly after that there was an announcement that there would be a freeze on transgender discharges while they did a one-year study. In the end, the DOD rolled out a policy allowing us to serve openly and genuinely.

INSKEEP: Now the rules have changed again. What do those rules mean for your day-to-day life as a soldier?

KING: The policy that is going into place creates a grandfather clause for transgender service members, which essentially makes those of us who are serving openly right now kind of like the last white rhinos. This particular policy affects all of us. This decision and this policy give a false sense of credibility to the inaccurate notion that transgender people are somehow less or less capable than our peers.

INSKEEP: How have you answered the objection, which I'm sure you've heard from someone in the military, that they want you to be ready to serve and not going through surgeries?

KING: Every service member will likely go through a period where they are not deployable for some small period of time, whether it be an injury, the birth of a child. We all go through that. Service members are not robots. We are people with lives. And human lives sometimes have factors that slow us down.

Transition can be that. But in my experience and in my case, the portion of time where I was not deployable and not ready to go to war was incredibly small. And every transgender service member knows that our first responsibility is to our job.

We employ the best and brightest in the military. And we appreciate what they bring to the table. Providing world-class care to the best and brightest is the cost of doing business to have the finest military and all-volunteer force in the world.

INSKEEP: Staff Sergeant King, thanks so much for taking the time.

KING: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.