Photographer: Danylo Paszkowsky
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Buffalo native Troi Michael enlisted in the Marines in 1987. They served in Okinawa, Japan.
“To the underprivileged and disenfranchised the military isn’t a curse, it’s a blessing,” Troi told News 4.
For Troi, who identifies as gender queer, the military offered focus and purpose.
“I wanted to serve my country,” said fellow veteran Angela Burnham, who is also from Western New York.
She began her transition from male to female while serving.
“My company commander is a great guy, he was totally supportive. He was as supportive as many boss could be of their subordinate,” she said.
Transgender individuals enlisting has been a highly debated issue in Washington for several years.
Over the summer, President Trump tweeted plans to ban this, going against a previous order set in place by then-president Obama.
“It’s been a very complicated issue for the military, it’s been a very confusing issue for the military, and I think I’m doing the military a great favor,” said President Trump in August.
Several courts blocked that ban, and as of Jan. 1, 2018 transgender individuals are able to enlist.
The Trump administration is now awaiting a February report to decide how to move forward on the issue.
“A lot of things are done outside of the military that don’t really impact the military itself. The military knows what it is, the military knows what it needs to do. The military knows that there’s going to be all different types of people within it,” Troi said.
They feel the military, as an institution, accommodates for the diversity of its members.
Troi looks back at their service with pride.
Both Troi and Angela hope transgender service-members continue to enlist. Not to prove a point or to send a political message they said, but because they believe it will make our armed forces stronger.
“Those people, they took an oath to protect our freedom, knowing full well they might have to lay down their lives to uphold that oath, to keep us safe. And that takes something special,” Burnham said.
A report in 2016 from the RAND Corporation found there was anywhere between 1,320 and 6,630 active transgender service-members.
News 4 reached out to the Department of Defense for updated numbers; a spokesperson said “As of Jan 24th there are no contracted transgender recruits in the military, active or otherwise. The process to enlist in the military is an extensive one, unique to each candidate’s individual qualifications and desired military occupational skill. We do not track potential recruits, and will only have information on them once they have signed a contract with a uniformed service, period.”
Prior to 2016, transgender individuals risked discharge if they publicly identified themselves.
“The secretary of defense established a panel of experts on Sept. 14, 2017. This panel is conducting a policy review as directed by the president,” the spokesperson said.
“The DOD will complete its review by February. The secretary [Defense Secretary Mattis] will then make his recommendations to the president by the end of March.”