Like Mark Green — President Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Army — I served my country in uniform. I was proud to be an infantry officer and retired honorably after 34 years. But as a transgender member of the military, I hid my authentic self for decades to continue serving the country I love. Unlike Green, I was forced to serve in silence the entire time, but I won’t be silent now.
I respect his Iraq War service as an Army flight surgeon, but the disrespect — the bigotry — he’s shown over and over toward the LGBT community, including LGBT service members, doesn’t reflect the spirit or direction of the military I know. Rather, his selection reflects poorly on the president and our armed forces. He’s the wrong choice to be Army secretary.
As a Tennessee state senator, Green has targeted the LGBT community. He introduced legislation that would enable businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals. At a town hall meeting with his constituents, he expressed support for the idea of his state’s government defying the Supreme Court’s decision upholding marriage equality in all 50 states. He argued being transgender “is a disease.”
Now that he’s been nominated, Green says “politics will have nothing to do” with how he would do the job of Army secretary. Wrong. Leading the Army requires an appreciation for every individual, without exception, and Green wouldn’t have the confidence of the thousands of LGBT soldiers proudly and openly serving today. Every soldier needs to know that those at the top, uniformed and civilian, have their back. But based on the way he has used anti-LGBT politics to advance his career, that’s not him.
And his views put him at odds with the Department of Defense, which values its diversity and has been a leading organization in advancing equality. Years before marriage equality became the law of the land, the Pentagon supported ending “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Last year, after studies conducted by the Palm Center and others institutions were released, the United States joined the militaries of 18 other nations, announcing that transgender service members would be able to serve openly. LGBT soldiers play an integral part in the defense of our nation and have since our founding. I know from personal experience that serving authentically only improves individual performance and, thus, enhances unit readiness. A RAND Corp. study conducted last year found that the impact, specifically, of transgender service members serving openly would have a minimal impact on readiness and costs.
Retiring as a full-bird colonel, I’m one of the highest-ranking publicly out transgender veterans in the country. During my two-and-a-half years as a Pentagon civilian analyst, I was identified as an exceptional performer and was known for the skills I brought to the table. I worked with former Army secretaries and their staffs. As a former human resources director for two federal agencies, I can attest to the value of an inclusive workforce. In and out of the military, what matters isn’t an individual’s orientation or identity, but whether they can do the job. The fact that three women have earned the prestigious Army Rangers tab and greater numbers of women are becoming infantry officers is proof ability knows no gender.
To be effective and maintain a competitive edge, organizations must be willing to learn and evolve. To do that, leaders must recognize advances and implement change accordingly. As a physician, I suspect Green accepted and incorporated medical advances and new protocols that were in the best interest of his patients. But based on his repeated attacks on the LGBT community, he doesn’t seem capable of evolving and accepting all service members as equals.
The Army follows a clear chain of command, and the tone is set from the top. Army leadership matters, and confirming Green to be secretary of the Army would send a very clear, very wrong, signal: LGBT soldiers are not welcome. By nominating Green, Trump has shown his true colors on LGBT issues, and if U.S. senators vote to confirm Green, they will have done the same.
Oh, and Sen. Green, I’m not diseased.