Jenna Squires knew this day was coming.
When President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that the United States would no longer “accept or allow” transgender people to serve within any branch of the military, Squires was ready:
“I was immediately disgusted, but not surprised.”
Squires, 29, who lives in Kansas City, is a U.S. military veteran. She is also a transgender woman.
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Squires began her transition in 2014 after serving six years as a U.S. petty Naval officer. “I joined essentially trying to prove something to myself,” she said. “To be masculine and live up to that, but ultimately my service only led to more questions about identity.”
But still, one certainty: “I loved my country, and I loved serving my country,” she said. “I did the right thing in doing so.”
A 2016 study by the Rand Corp. estimates that 1,320 to 6,330 of the military’s 1.3 million active members are transgender, making up 0.1 to 0.5 percent. In 2014, a think tank at UCLA’s law school, the Williams Institute, put the number closer to 15,000, and more than 150,000 transgender veterans.
In announcing his ban, Trump said the military “must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory” and could not afford to be bogged down by the “tremendous medical costs” tethered to transgender members of the military.
The Rand report found costs for treatments such as sex reassignment surgery and hormone therapy to be $8 million, raising military health care costs 0.13 percent.
“This is all a red herring. It’s only to distract us from these bigger issues already taking place around Trump,” Squires said, referring to allegations of collusion with the Russians and other negative news about the administration. “So in turn, I feel used more than anything else. Because I don’t think Trump actually gives a damn.”
Trump’s comments echoed those of U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican representing central and western Missouri who has long pushed against President Barack Obama’s policies allowing transgender troops to serve and to use military funds for medical costs.
“I think we raised the awareness for people all across this country of this failed Obama policy that had been inflicted on our military last year and the dangers to both our readiness as well as our ability to spend our precious defense dollars to meet the threat,” Hartzler told The Star.
“I was already so angry with Vicky Hartzler,” Squires said. “That woman I have no words for. I’m sure she’s jumping for joy.”
In June, Hartzler introduced an amendment to the defense budget that would block transgender troops from serving.
“It’s particularly maddening because all the trans people I know are some of the most loving people,” Squires said. “They care about their communities. Most of them are doing this for identity purposes. Most, if not all, are thinking above self. When you restrict some part of a social group from the military, it only hurts in the long run; it ends up hurting the service as a whole.”
Trump’s statements have been met with support from social conservatives and vocal opposition from Democrats; some congressmen who are veterans, such as Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona; transgender celebrities LaVerne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner; and locally from the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project, which oversees KC Passages, an advocacy program for lesbian, gay and transgender teens in the area.
Trump’s decision will “discard the thousands of trained, willing and able service members who happen to be trans,” said Justin Shaw, the Anti-Violence Project’s executive director. “Policies such as this proposed transgender ban on military service do nothing but fan the flames of hatred that have been burning so brightly recently.”
Squires says she has used her Veterans Affairs health benefits to pay for her hormone therapy.
Just a few weeks ago, she says, she had begun talking with her boyfriend about obtaining a bachelor’s degree and re-entering the military. With her past experience, she thought she could help the military acclimate to the needs of its transgender members.
“They were often treated as a joke in some ways,” she said. “We were always deployed in Southeast Asia, and people would joke, like, ‘Make sure you check before you bring the ladies back.’ ”
Squires says her idea of rejoining the Navy is most likely no longer an option.
Still, she offers hope to transgender people now in the military or hoping to join:
“I’d say to them, ‘Don’t be disillusioned or disheartened,’ ” Squires said. “There’s more work we can do at home. If you want to serve your country, there are many ways you can do that. Start by serving your community.”