It’s been more than a week and Jay Potter is still in shock.
“My seven years of honorable service, my honorable service medals, my army good conduct medal, my meritorious early promotions… and my ability to both lead and follow orders are invalid,” said Potter, who served as a specialist. in the 143rd Military Police, in response to President Trump’s Jan. 22 ban on transgender military personnel, passed with a 5-4 Supreme Court vote.
The Supreme Court decision lifted two lower court injunctions that had been in the way of the ban. While one injunction still remains, the SCOTUS ruling is a harbinger for the likely application of a ban on any members of military who experience gender dysphoria or “who require or have undergone gender transition.” According to the American Psychiatric Association, gender dysphoria is described as a conflict between the gender someone was assigned at birth and the gender with which they identify.
Potter, who was born intersex, a natural variation where physical characteristics don’t fall clearly into what has been defined as male and female, gravitated early to military service.
“I succeed in a disciplined environment and love a challenge. I am a major athlete and the ability to showcase my brains and brawn for a living was enticing,” said Potter, who lives in Providence, Rhode Island. “I love the military, because it is family. It is a love you won’t share with many people in your life and as a soldier there is a lot of that.”
Now that feeling of family for him is gone as a result of the SCOTUS decision.
“Not only is mine and other soldiers prior service experience invalid, but as a whole we are deemed not worthy to continue service in the United States Military EVER again,” Potter explained. “This is blanket and regardless of physical and mental prowess.”
In 2017, Potter joined the army where he said he received two meritorious promotions even before leaving for basic training. In 2008, he came to the decision that, in the interest in his physical and mental health, he would begin hormone replacement therapy.
“Medical transition was very natural for me. My body changed rather rapidly and things just seemed to fall into place. I’m very very blessed in that regard,” said Potter. “It was extraordinary in some aspects, but to me it was a physical manifestation of what I already had inside. It was puberty, the same boring, weird, sometimes funny, socially awkward phase we all go through – except I got to go through it twice.”
Potter said he had the full support of his immediate chain of command during his transition. Following the procedure, he took eight weeks off from drill before returning to the unit.
“My seven years of honorable service, my honorable service medals, my army good conduct medal, my meritorious early promotions… and my ability to both lead and follow orders are [now somehow] invalid?”
– Army Spc. Jay Potter, 143rd Military Police
Even though Potter left honorably in 2013 – he said he’d always intended to return to service later. But that option may have been taken away by the capricious tweeting of President Trump.
In July 2017, Trump tweeted he would ban trans military service, arguing, “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming … victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Dr. Rachel Levine, secretary of health for the state of Pennsylvania adamantly disagrees with the president.
“I feel that the ban is a mistake at best and unconscionable at worst,” Levine said in a conversation with Philadelphia Weekly. “Trans Americans have the right to pursue any career and the idea that they can’t serve in the military is marginalizing and wrong.”
From a medical perspective, Dr. Levine said Trump’s claims are “terribly mistaken.” She pointed out that all people need medical care and the care of trans individuals is not particularly expensive, especially in the scheme of overall military costs. Treatment for the transition of a trans military member would follow the standardized guidelines of care as outlined by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, according to Levine.
“Not everyone has surgery,” said Dr. Levine, who under the Wolf Administration in Harrisburg has taken an active role in progressing LGBT rights. “Research has shown that it doesn’t impact readiness to serve. I am proud to serve my community, my state and nation. I am proud to be trans and to serve in the Wolf Administration.”
In his two years in office, Trump has reversed a variety Obama-era LGBT civil rights, removed LGBT-specific health pages from government websites, installed numerous anti-LGBT judges and still fails to acknowledge Pride month. This is despite having campaigned as an ally, even holding up a rainbow flag during the 2016 Republican convention.
The military is, by many assessments, the largest employer of trans people in the United States, with an estimated 15,500 active-duty service members. Despite this, expected costs for trans medical care are only somewhere between $2 million to $8 million per year, according to the Rand Corporation. Compare that to the $41.6 million the military spends on Viagra annually or Trump’s frequent Mar a Lago trips, which cost taxpayers at least $3.6 million each.
“I think the ban is hateful, horrifying and in bad taste,” said Ashley Scott, a transgender veteran who served an 11-year career in the military with a tour of duty in Iraq.
He noted that during that time, his service found him receive the combat action badge in addition to being a member of the Honor Guard. “I was a soldier, served for freedoms, [peace], the ability to be your true self and I did this even though I couldn’t be me,” he said. “[I’m] thankful for the experiences good and bad because it made me today. It gives me honor personally.”
Of the ban he paused and added: “We [transgender people] are seen as inhuman, these creatures that don’t deserve rights, privileges, health care. This is what we hear, see [and] go through daily. It’s already hard, this just puts more nails in our coffin. To not be able to serve if we choose to!? To be punished for being ourselves. For doing jobs like any other. For selfless service… it hurts my heart.”