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Transgender recruit tries to join military before ban takes effect

The Pentagon. (Senior Airman Perry Aston/Defense Department)

Jody Davis clocks a 2-mile run at 23 minutes, the standard she has to meet to qualify for the Ohio Army National Guard.

But the real challenge she faces is a race against time, she says.

A transgender woman, 48-year-old Davis wants to serve her country again after first joining 30 years ago as a young man. Yet that could soon become impossible.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Trump administration policy barring certain transgender people from serving in the armed forces can stand while appeals play out in lower courts.

Nearly a month later, however, that policy remains blocked because of a lingering injunction being litigated in a federal district court in Maryland.

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So, like many other transgender individuals, Davis now hopes to get into the military before the injunction is lifted.

“Anybody who’s fit, anybody who can meet the qualifications, they should be able to serve,” said Davis, a licensed social worker and nurse who lives in Worthington. “If you can do the job, do the job.”

More than 134,000 veterans are transgender, and more than 15,000 transgender individuals are serving, according to estimates from the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Davis said that part of the reason she wants to serve is to help other transgender people who are in the military or want to be — and to try to dispel some of the stigma.

Trump has said the ban is needed because of the “tremendous medical costs” associated with transgender people needing gender-reassignment surgery or hormones — an argument that transgender advocates reject, saying the cost to the government is minimal and nowhere near what it pays for other medications.

Yet they often face other roadblocks.

A few weeks before Trump announced via Twitter that he wanted to ban transgender troops, Davis saw an advertisement in a military magazine saying the Ohio Army National Guard needed social workers. She decided not long after to join and contribute her skills.

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That was 1½ years ago. After learning what physical standards she’d have to meet to join, Davis has spent the past 10 months preparing. She lost 50 pounds and worked to get her originally male body to meet female standards for entrance into the military, including a maximum 35-inch waistline and 175-pound frame and the ability to do a certain number of push-ups and sit-ups.

“(Davis) sacrificed so much just to qualify for the health requirements to get in,” said Davis’ wife, Jennifer Evans. “I’m still scared, but she deserves the right to be able to serve her country.”

Although Davis has never been diagnosed with anxiety, a counselor she had to see before getting gender-reassignment surgery noted it on her chart. Because anxiety is a disqualifier for serving, Davis said, she had to get a waiver. She did, but then the military said another group had to give her a waiver for the same issue, and she is still waiting.

“It’s really been very difficult, and you start to wonder if the stops and starts are from Trump trying to ban transgender people,” Davis said.

After receiving that final waiver, she probably will have to go before the officer review board for a final decision. She’s holding her breath while she waits, hoping that the injunction will hold as she moves through these final steps.

About 30 people attended a Downtown march on Wednesday where Davis and her 43-year-old wife spoke. They urged lawmakers to put pressure on the Defense Department to stop the ban on transgender troops.

“There’s been no evidence that trans people are creating any kind of issue,” Davis said during the “No One Left Behind March,” which went from St. John’s United Church of Christ at 59 E. Mound St. to Republican Sen. Rob Portman’s Broad Street office and then past the Statehouse before returning to the church.

In a statement, Portman said he thinks the issue will be decided in the courts. “I would hope that all people who are willing and able to serve can do so and be treated with respect and dignity,” he said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who advocates say has been supportive of the transgender community, said in a statement he is “grateful to everyone who volunteers to serve in our military. Service members put their lives on the line for this country, and we should not be turning away anyone who is willing and able to serve.”

Daniel Myers, 31, of Westerville, attended the rally to support his fiancee, a transgender woman, and others who want to serve. He was a corporal in the Army from 2009 to 2013.

“I’ve been all over the world with gay soldiers, Muslim soldiers, trans soldiers,” Myers said through a megaphone while standing in front of Portman’s office at 37 W. Broad St. “It didn’t matter one bit.”

Davis said the armed forces have been challenged with a recruitment lull, and supporting trans service members could help.

The Army missed its 2018 recruiting goal of 76,500 by about 6,500, according to the Department of Defense. The Army National Guard came in at 8,000 below its authorized strength of 343,500, according to the National Guard Association.

“I have tremendous respect for any American who’s willing to risk their life and serve their country,” said Stephen Snyder-Hill, a soldier and LGBT rights activist. “No person on the planet can convince me that gender identity impairs them.”

Snyder-Hill said it’s absurd that the military would turn down people who want to serve.

“There’s a lot of LGBTQ people in the military, and they need representation, and they need help,” said Davis, who is working on entering the Ohio Army National Guard as an officer and a social worker. “I want to help reintegrate soldiers into society. It’s really difficult.”

Davis said that in spite of the current Trump administration efforts, she remains hopeful that transgender people will be able to serve openly and proudly at some point.

“The military has always been a place of eventual integration,” she said, pointing to the historical participation of blacks and women, with the formal process to open combat jobs to women beginning just six years ago, in January 2013. “We feel like in the trans community, the arc of history is with us.”

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© 2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.