In 1987, Brianna Matthews joined the military. Following her high school graduation, Matthews began her 10-year stint in the Air Force, where she controlled radio operations and information systems — but it wasn’t easy. Matthews is one of the estimated 134,000 transgender veterans in the United States. There are more than 15,000 estimated trans individuals in the military right now.
Matthews knew from a very young age that she struggled with gender identity. Throughout her time in middle and high school, she knew that she was different from the boys that surrounded her. Of course, this didn’t change once she joined the ranks of the enlisted.
“Even as I served, I still didn’t know where I fit in,” Matthews said. “I didn’t know if I was just experimenting or what, but I knew the feelings weren’t going away. I was still hiding who I was, but I was becoming more liberal with the way I resented myself. Luckily, I was based in California where I could get away with it.”
During her time, Matthews started shaving her legs and stashing female wardrobe in a triple-padlocked duffle bag. She was hiding, which, until recently, was true for nearly every transgender service member in the US military.
Until last year, trans people were barred from serving in the military. And, while it looks good on the surface, the Pentagon is still trying to navigate its policy on those enlisted.
Two transgender cadets — one each at the Air Force and Army military academies — will be allowed to graduate this month after passing exams but will not be permitted to join the ranks of the military’s newest officers. The Air Force and Army will not commission the cadets after graduation because the Pentagon has not yet established procedures for accepting new transgender troops in its ranks.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is scheduled to deliver the commencement address at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on May 24.
The Army also has a transgender cadet who is scheduled to graduate, pending final exams, but will be unable to join the active-duty ranks, said Cynthia Smith, an Army spokeswoman.
“We can confirm that a military academy cadet has identified as transgender, however, per the current Department of Defense medical accessions policy, this cadet cannot commission,” Smith said in a statement.
West Point will not recognize the cadet’s preferred gender at graduation, but instead the candidate’s biological sex.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is scheduled to give the commencement address at U.S. Military Academy at West Point on May 27.
The following Sunday, May 28, the American Veterans for Equal Rights’ Rocky Mountain chapter and the Gender Identity Center of Colorado will celebrate transgender service members at the first Military Transgender Day of Recognition.
Complete with dinner, drinks, a silent auction to benefit the host organizations, and guest speakers Laila Ireland and Shelby Scott, the night will be filled with celebration and honoring our trans brothers and sisters.
Military Transgender Day of Recognition
6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
VFW Post 1
841 Santa Fe Drive
Denver, Colorado 80204