Championing Visibility for Trans Veterans
From a young age, Jennifer’s dream was to serve in the military and follow in the footsteps of their father. Despite knowing they would have to conceal their identity, Jennifer was motivated by the opportunity to gain job experience and save money for their transition.
“I wanted to join the military, even though I’d have to be in the closet,” Jennifer said. “I hoped my military experience would make it easier to afford my transition and start my career.”
Jennifer enlisted after graduating from high school in 2005. In the Navy, they were an Information Systems Technician, sparking an interest in technology as an over-the-phone tech support specialist. They were soon promoted to working in a server room.
“I loved the tech skills I was learning in the Navy,” Jennifer said. “But personally, I was living a double life. I was pretending to be a man on base while, at the same time, I was trying to be my authentic self away from work. I became depressed.”
“In 2008, I finally had to tell the on-base therapist I was trans and that I couldn’t pretend any longer. The therapist wanted to help, but very little could be done since transgender people couldn’t serve in the military at that time. So I was honorably discharged.”
After their discharge, Jennifer returned to a tech support job as a civilian, and they started living their life as their authentic self.
“It was amazing when I could finally stop pretending and just be me,” Jennifer said. “But I still carried trauma.”
“Because of how I was treated in the Navy, I assumed the VA would not provide the healthcare I needed. Fortunately, I was wrong.
“If you’re a trans Veteran, don’t make the mistake I did. The VA will help you.”
When Jennifer started going to the VA, they saw a gap in the information available for transgender Veterans. So they started sharing their story and participating in workshops to educate VA medical staff on the needs of the trans community.
“It wasn’t easy at first, but the VA’s acceptance and understanding of trans people has improved. I’m proud to have played a small part in creating that change,” they said.
Jennifer found their work advocating for transgender Veterans rewarding, and soon it became their full-time job.
“I earned a Peer Supporter job at a mental health nonprofit,” they said. “I led peer support groups for trans people, mental health, and active recovery communities, and I loved it. I was at the center of the Ohio trans community. But it was taxing; my company was very bureaucratic. I felt like a cog in the machine, not a person.”
“I didn’t intend to pursue a tech career but found Code Platoon while looking for free learning resources. I thought that I had to take advantage of this opportunity.
“Then I had so much fun learning coding that I wanted to keep doing it. I applied for a software engineering apprenticeship after I graduated.”
Jennifer is now a software engineer apprentice at 8th Light. Besides their tech skills from the Navy, Jennifer brings their peer support and activism experience to the role. They started an LGBTQIA+ employee social meetup and work with their office’s human resources to support mental health improvements for their colleagues.
“I left my job as a peer supporter, but I’ll never stop being an advocate,” Jennifer said. “I’ve made a name for myself in the trans, mental health, and recovery spaces.”
Jennifer won a Donald R Hallman LGBTQ Veterans Recognition Award for their advocacy work. They also plan to become a mentor for future military Coding Bootcamp students.
“My Code Platoon mentor was a trans Veteran, and she was an incredible resource. I want to support other trans Veteran’s journey to tech someday, as she did for me.
“I highly recommend any trans Veterans connect with a trans mentor. The support you can gain from someone with similar lived experience is unmatched.”
Jennifer also advises trans Servicemembers to serve openly in the military if they’re able.
“If I could have been myself while I served, I probably would have stayed in the military for the long haul,” Jennifer said. “You can be trans in the military now, so take advantage of the opportunity if the military is what you want to do.”
“Now I’m accomplishing all of my life’s goals. I married an incredible husband. I bought a house two years ago and will adopt my first baby soon. My accomplishments are profound because of everything I’ve overcome. I have the happiness I could only dream of ten years ago. I can’t even express how amazing my life is now.”
Kayla Elkin is the Marketing Content Specialist at Code Platoon. In this role, she utilizes her marketing, writing, and editing skills developed from previous positions in higher education and educational technology. Kayla has degrees in English and Sociology from Clemson University and completed the Study in India Program (SIP) at the University of Hyderabad. She lives with her partner in northern Chicago.
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