As a member of the U.S. Army in 2004, Ashley Scott celebrated his 21st birthday at Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq. During his deployment in the Iraq War he saw bombs detonate and felt the molten heat of a bullet across his skin. He was transported by medevac to Germany after one serious injury, where he spent about a month recovering.
He saw firsthand that war isn’t glamorous or glorious. Mentally and physically, “it takes a toll,” said Ashley. Because of his service to his country, Ashley now lives with a disability.
Given the choice, however, the Minnesotan said he’d do it all again. “The military teaches you many things,” said Ashley–chief among them the core values of leadership, honor, respect, and duty. He’s better at listening and learning and can assess a crisis situation and develop a plan of action. He discovered that spending long periods of time outdoors isn’t so bad, despite the insects.
Additionally, the exposure to people from different cultures and walks of life expanded Ashley’s worldview. “I worked with people from Hawaii that I never would have met otherwise. I met people from Iraq and Afghanistan and got to see the different ways that people live. I gained a greater appreciation for the things we take for granted as Americans: electricity, clean water, the fact that women have the freedom to work and live as they choose.”
In short, the military “made me a better person and a better uncle to my niece and nephew,” said Ashley. After completing his term in Iraq, he served in the Virginia National Guard.
He believes these same opportunities should to be available to all Americans who want to serve and are qualified to do so–including transgender Americans.
The Trump administration’s attempt to ban transgender people from the military–despite the fact that about 9,000 trans troops are currently serving–undermines military readiness, said Ashley.
“It creates harm because we’d lose qualified people,” he said. “The cohesive military units that work together regardless of our backgrounds or where we’re from makes us more powerful as a nation.”
And he knows from experience that forcing transgender people to deny their true selves in order serve, as the Trump administration would have trans troops do, is not a productive or realistic option.
Though he did not begin to understand himself as a transgender man until 2009, prior to that Ashley still identified as a member of the LGBT community, and was thus subject to the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which allowed gay and lesbian people to serve so long as they kept their sexual orientation secret.
The experience of “wearing a mask, not being able to be yourself” was exhausting, said Ashley. There again, military readiness is undermined.
“In the military, things are a little bit more fierce–people are really passionate,” he said. “Being able to be yourself, to bring your whole self to the job without worrying about retaliation, allows you to be the best soldier you can be–a good battle buddy.”
Ashley is concerned about the implications of the ban for his transgender friends who are still wearing the uniform. Many are concerned that the careers they have built will be yanked away in the time it takes to compose a Tweet.
Likewise, he worries about the ban’s effect on the transgender youth he mentors. Many, he said, have military aspirations. They’re concerned they could begin the process of enlistment only to have their dreams dashed further down the road.
As a veteran who receives all of his medical care through the VA, he is also worried for his own future.
“I am one-hundred percent disabled because of my service, and rely on the VA for all of my medical care,” he said. “What will happen to transgender veterans? I worry my medical care will be taken away.”
Thinking more broadly, Ashley said the transgender military ban sends the message that it’s okay to discriminate against transgender people in other segments of our society.
“Putting a ban on any community, whether based on gender, race, religion, or being LGBT, opens the door for people to be more discriminated against. It dehumanizes people and makes them afraid to be who they are,” he said. “And all any of us wants is to be our true selves, to be happy, to be of service, and not be judged.”