LISBON, Ohio -- Nic Talbott keeps himself busy, working as a substitute teacher, studying for a master’s degree, helping with chores at his grandmother’s farm. He also finds time, almost daily, for rigorous workouts — to ensure he is in shape in case his dream job, serving in the U.S. military, becomes available.
For now, that door is closed to him by the Trump administration for one reason: He’s transgender.
Talbott, 26, was elated in 2016 when the Pentagon — with a green light from then-President Barack Obama — announced that transgender people already serving in the military would be allowed to do so openly. President Donald Trump, six months after replacing Obama, announced with a tweet in July 2017 that he would reverse that policy and bar transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the military.
Four lawsuits were filed in federal courts challenging Trump’s policy, including one in which Talbott is a plaintiff. The suits are pending, but the Supreme Court last year ruled that the ban could go into effect while the litigation continued. The ban was formally implemented on April 12, 2019.
Some transgender people who hoped to enlist have moved on to other pursuits, but Talbott refuses to give up on a career aspiration that dates to his childhood.
“At this point, I am not looking at other options,” he said. “I know this is what I’m supposed to be doing, and I know there are thousands of other transgender people like me. We shouldn’t have to settle for a Plan B.”
Talbott graduated in 2015 from Kent State University, about an hour’s drive from his hometown of Lisbon in eastern Ohio. He is now pursuing a master’s at Kent State in criminology, with a concentration in global security.
Before the ban, Talbott was participating in an Army ROTC program. He says he’d be open to serving in either the Army or the Air Force, ideally as a military police officer or in a military intelligence unit.
He has a gym membership and also does online workouts at home, with a goal of exceeding minimum physical standards for whatever military option might open up for him.
Jesse Liggitt, a friend of Talbott’s since they were little, now works alongside him on the staff at Southern Local High School.
“He’s one of the strongest people I know,” Liggitt said. “He’s an extremely hard worker, always striving to do something better.”
Talbott lives at his grandmother's hilltop farm in Lisbon, in an outbuilding near the main farmhouse. He flies a large American flag from his front porch's fence.
In his living quarters, there's equipment for his workouts, and a bulletin board on the wall covered with photographs, including a couple of him in his ROTC uniform.
His family is close-knit. On Friday he, his mother and his sister feted his grandmother, Rhonda Dineen, with cake and coffee ice cream on her 73rd birthday.
At one point, the discussion turned to Talbott's future. If somehow his wish came true, and he were deployed far away in the military a year from now, the family said they'd be at peace with his missing Dineen's next birthday.
Attorney Jennifer Levi, who is handling Talbott’s lawsuit on behalf of Boston-based GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, says she and her legal allies are trying to gain access to any documents and other information on which the Trump administration based its decision to reinstate the ban.
Once that discovery process is complete, the four lawsuits could go to trial in federal district courts — perhaps as soon as this fall, Levi said.
“We recognize the challenges, knowing what the federal judiciary looks like these days,” she said. "But we think our case is incredibly strong. I don’t see anything the government has, other than a baseless attack on transgender people.”
All four service chiefs told Congress in 2018 that they had seen no discipline, morale or readiness problems with transgender troops serving openly in the military.
Their testimony contrasted with a 2018 Pentagon report, endorsed by the White House, that said that transgender people “could impair unit readiness; undermine unit cohesion, as well as good order and discipline, by blurring the clear lines that demarcate male and female standards and policies where they exist; and lead to disproportionate costs.”
The Trump administration's policy bars people who have undergone gender transition, such as Talbott, from enlisting. It also requires people already in the military to serve as their biological gender unless they began a gender transition under the less restrictive Obama administration rules.
The maximum age for enlisting is 35 for the Army and 39 for the Air Force, so the clock won’t run out on Talbott any time soon. But he finds the current impasse frustrating.
“I’m 26 now,” he says. “I’d be going in at the same level as people who are 18, 19, 20.”
Crary reported from New York.