Transgender service members want answers after Trump announces b - WSMV News 4

Transgender service members want answers after Trump announces ban

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Alex Wagner said he is concerned for his son after the president announced a ban on transgender service members. (WSMV) Alex Wagner said he is concerned for his son after the president announced a ban on transgender service members. (WSMV)

Military officials at Fort Campbell, like many others across the country, had few answers Wednesday about what a new transgender military service ban will mean.

Alex Wagner has served in the U.S. National Guard since 2012, driving trucks in missions on U.S. soil and in Afghanistan. He woke up Wednesday morning to news that President Donald Trump announced in a series of tweets that he is banning transgender persons from serving in the U.S. military.

"I woke up and people were just tagging me in everything on Facebook, and my heart instantly stopped," Wagner said.

Right now, Wagner has more questions than answers.

"I contacted someone in my higher chain of command," Wagner said. "I was freaking out this morning. I really was. I was like, 'What do I do? Did you see the news?' And he said don't freak out yet. He's going to take a long time for things to get down on paper."

The U.S. Military spokespeople have been directing all questions directly to the White House. White House officials offered very few details about what the ban will mean, when it will go into effect, and how it will be implemented.

For Wagner, it's much deeper than the job or even his heart to serve his country. He's concerned that his 6-year-old son, who has autism, might lose the insurance that he receives through the military.

"I can't afford the health care that my son needs for hours of special needs," Wagner said. "His special needs are $150 an hour, and the ECHO [The Extended Care Health Option] program that I get through TRICARE pays for all of therapies and all of his classes and all of his school needs.”

For Wagner, this type of discrimination in the service is new.

"My unit that I'm currently attached to are 100 percent supportive. My captain, my first sergeant, everybody is amazing, understanding," Wagner said. "I never had to go through the downfalls of being in the military and being transgender because I was welcomed in my unit.”

Carla Lewis had an opposite experience. She said she was discharged for being transgender.

Lewis is a transgender veteran of the U.S. Air Force. She served in the competitive space command program in the early ‘90s.

"To get into space command and to graduate from their course, it took a lot of effort," Lewis said.

For Lewis, gender discrimination in the military goes back more than two painful decades.

She gained top security clearance and worked in a top secret station. She said during the security clearance process, military officials learned she'd seen a counselor expressing gender concerns.

"They stripped me of one of my ranks, lowered my pay, and put me on base detail, which is basically janitorial services for six months while they tried to court martial me for being gay," Lewis said. "When they couldn't prove that I was gay, they discharged me for being transgender."

Lewis said not only did she leave the military without the education she sought, she had to carry discharge papers that said she had mental disorders to future employers to explain the military discharge.

That was in 1991. In 2016, it became legal for transgender members to serve openly.

"We were all waiting for new recruits that are transgender to be able to come into the military service, this is what we've been expecting. Then to have this hammer drop completely blew everybody out of the water," Lewis added.

The announcement not only comes as a shock, but is sparking confusion among the transgender ranks about job security, insurance and livelihood.

"I have friends who are active duty serving overseas and they're wondering when their commander is going to come in and tell them they have to pack their bags,” Lewis said. “Some of them have families. Some of them are close to retiring and have put in 18 years and now that's just going to be taken away from them."

Lewis noted one of the members of SEAL Team 6, which killed Osama Bin Laden, was a transgender woman. Lewis said some service members have turned down jobs to stay in their roles with the military. They're now facing the possibility of losing the job they love.

"Their housing, their food and their clothing is taken care of, and so is their medical care. You're about to be thrown into a world where everything is exponentially more costly. Not only will they not have a job but they'll have to start over," Lewis said.

Despite some of the negativity and the fear, Wagner is remaining hopeful.

"We have intelligent people. So he's not only taking away from us and our families but he is taking away from the country's protection," Wagner said. "I may not agree with what people are saying but I'm never going to stop fighting for my country.”

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