WASHINGTON - The new year brings many firsts and 2018 will mark a first for transgender individuals who wish to enlist in the military. After federal court rulings blocked President Donald Trump's call to ban transgender individuals from the military, a federal court order will commence allowing them to enlist starting on Jan. 1.
The Trump administration has decided not to appeal a federal court's ruling. The administration is reportedly waiting to hear the results of a study on the issue from the Department of Defense that will be released no later than Feb. 21.
"The evidence, the science and the experience of 18 allies - the experience of 134,000 transgender veterans who have served already and the thousands that are serving now demonstrate that transgender people can serve honorably, contribute to the mission, and have been for decades," said Paula Neira, a former lieutenant in the United States Navy. "My story is an example of that. Now, I was in the closet because the times were different."
After studying at the Naval Academy, Neira served for six years in the Navy and served in Desert Storm. She explained that leaving the Navy was the most difficult decision she has ever had to make in her life, but she could no longer continue living as a man and needed to transition from male to female.
Neira believes that qualified transgender individuals who want to serve add to the strength of the United States armed forces.
"Our country has evolved and our military realizes that we draw strength from diversity," said Neira. "For me, I was just 25 years too early. But every time we have allowed more people the opportunity to serve our country, the military has gotten better. We have become more lethal. We are better at our job of defending the country and our values. Every time."
Guidelines for transgender enlistment require, in part, that applicants have a medical provider certify they have been stable without "clinically significant distress or impairment" for the previous 18 months.