Transgender Veterans Fight for Military Paperwork to Match New Gender


But Kemnitz said veterans are asked for the DD-214 "at every turn," unlike college transcripts or other documents. "Every single time you go to avail yourself of something, it shows you have been in the armed services. It's evidence."

Already the Air Force allows such revisions, though the other branches do not, according to Kemnitz.

"They have set the right tone and the way forward," she said. "We want the other branches to do it -- one uniform way."

An estimated 140,000 of the nation's 26 million veterans may be transgender, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

It is hard, though, to determine exact numbers, because so many transgender Americans are closeted, according to the LGBT Bar Association. But the 2011 National Transgender Survey estimates 700,000 Americans are transgender, and about 20 percent of those interviewed said they had been in the military at some point in their lives.

"Frankly, we don't know how many they are," said Kemnitz. "But we know in the armed services there are a disproportionate number of individuals [who are transgender]. If you are questioning your gender, where else do you find clarity?

"If you are a woman in the military, they tell you how to wear your hair," she said. "If you are a man, they tell you how long it has to be and if you can have facial hair. They tell you what your gender is."

When Neira graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and went on active duty in 1985, she was "questioning" her gender but not her commitment to military service.

As a lieutenant, she received three Navy commendation medals, an achievement medal and other service ribbons in a warfare task group cleaning out sea mines in the northern Persian Gulf.

"I knew something was different -- I had an inkling," she said. "I felt female, but was not ever able to accept it."

Neira said she came to realize while on active duty that she would have to start dealing with her gender nonconformity, but knew she would be thrown out of the Navy.

"You are going to be discharged," said Neira. "You don't have the ability to ask for help. You have to hide it from the government."

In the 1980s women were not allowed to serve on the destroyers and frigates where Neira worked, but that law changed in the 1990s.

Even the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, which allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military, could not have helped her.

Being transgender, or what the military calls a "psychosexual condition," is considered a medical disqualification.

Neira transitioned at the age of 28 after she left the military with an honorable discharge. With her law degree, she went on to fight for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and now works to ban discrimination in the military she loved so much.

"The hardest decision I ever made was leaving the Navy," she said. "Accepting myself as a female and dealing with transition was easier than having to give up my calling."

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