Female and gender nonconforming veterans say they face challenges in the military
Gender and expression can play a significant role in the careers of military personnel. The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center brought veterans from across the country together to shine a light on gender identity in the military. The diverse group of female and gender nonconforming veterans shared how their gender, or their expression of it, impacted their military careers.
Lindsay Church from Oregon joined the Navy after 9/11 while the controversial Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy prevented members of the LGBTQ community from serving openly. They said they got back in the closet because they felt called to serve.
“It was supposed to be ‘don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue’ but they pursued all the time,” said Church, who is now the executive director of Minority Veterans of America. “If you misstep, it's not just like you lose your job. When you lose your job in the military and they push you out — it ruins your life.”
Church said even though the policy was repealed, many veterans received less than honorable discharges that can block access to employment and VA benefits. The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center is urging the military to overhaul its criteria for determining discharge status.
“I experienced racial, gendered hostilities and violence, including rape, and also saw myself intervening in multiple rapes at a very young age,” Pam Campos-Palma said about her service as an Air Force intelligence analyst. She’s now a political strategist for the Working Families Party and an advocate with Vets for the People.
As a queer Latina, Campos-Palma said she often felt like senior leaders did not take her seriously unless she wore makeup and conformed to other stereotypes.
The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center hosted the panel as part of its efforts to advance equity and inclusion in the military.
This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.