Trans reservistbecomes public advocate
by Matthew S. Bajko
Sage Fox's military career began in 1993 when she enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Haiti. She then spent several years working for the Army chief of staff at the Pentagon.
After a decade out of the armed forces, Fox returned in 2008 and became a direct commission officer with the Army Reserves. Stationed at the B T Collins Reserve Center in Sacramento, Fox was sent to Kuwait in 2012 where she managed $50 million in projects and oversaw 70 personnel.
For most of her military career Fox had served as a man. Yet during her deployment in the Middle East, Fox decided to transition to a woman.
By December 2012 Fox had returned to the states and was placed on the inactive ready reserves list. She started taking hormones, enrolled in graduate school, and divorced from her wife.
During this time she received a promotion to captain and underwent surgery to have several ribs removed due to a shoulder injury. The medical procedure, however, prompted the military to inform Fox she could no longer be listed as inactive.
Rather, she needed to be back in uniform in order to be evaluated by a medical review board. The process, she was told, could last up to a year.
"It was the right thing to do," said Fox, "but the catch was I am a female now. As far as California and the federal government are concerned, I am female."
Fox, 41, had legally changed her name and gender, and due to the hormones she was taking, had developed physical changes so that she no longer presented as a man.
"I was not going to cut my hair or shower with the guys because I am not a guy," explained Fox about the prospect of having to go back on active duty.
She informed her commander about her gender transition and was told she could rejoin as female. Now classified as a signal officer for the Army Reserve, Fox took part in a training weekend in November 2013 along with 400 of her fellow reservists.
"I had no issues," she recalled.
Nonetheless, two weeks later in an email sent to Fox, she was transferred to the individual ready reserve. The move, Fox believes, was due to her being in violation of the Pentagon's ban against transgender people from serving in the military.
"I was told to take the orders and go away, pretty much," said Fox. "It was easier to follow the policy than have me setting precedent. As far as I know, I was the first person invited back to serve under a new gender."
Captain Eric W. Connor, the deputy chief spokesman for the Army Reserve, confirmed that Fox had been placed on the individual ready reserve list in November last year. He said it is unclear when her "permanent separation" from the military will be finalized.
"When you are separated from the armed forces you are no longer considered a service member," said Connor.
Stressing he was not speaking directly about Fox's case, Connor noted that under current Department of Defense "policy and guidelines a soldier or service member who chooses a transgender lifestyle he or she cannot serve in the armed forces."
Fox would like to be officially discharged from the Army Reserve so she can join the California State Military Reserve and serve as its LGBT outreach coordinator. The all-volunteer, unarmed force acts as the state's militia and assists with the California National Guard during emergency events, such as earthquakes or wildfires, when called up by the governor.
"As a transgender woman she is working to resign her position so she can then join our state military reserve. Federal law prohibits you from being in both," explained Shannon Terry, deputy director of government affairs for the California Military Department and an Army captain in the California National Guard.
Due to the military's ban on transgender service members, Fox is barred from joining the state National Guard.
"It is unfortunate," said Terry, who is straight but described herself as a strong advocate for the LGBT community.
The California Military Department, which will participate for the second year in Sacramento Pride this Saturday, is supportive of seeing the Pentagon overturn its ban against transgender service members, said Darrin Bender, director of government affairs for the state agency. Bender, a lieutenant colonel in the state military reserve, added that the department believes having Fox become a member of the state's militia will set an example for how anachronistic the Pentagon's policy is.
"By bringing Sage into the ranks, and allowing her to advocate as a member of a military organization, we believe will be a good example for the federal government that you can integrate transgender soldiers into your force. It is seamless and not an issue."
Fox would become the first out transgender member of the California Military Reserve, Bender said.
Transgender people "can serve openly and there are no breakdowns in order or discipline" when they do, added Bender. "We want to be an example and have California to be the first state to do this."
SF Pride nixes info booth
Even though Fox is not yet an official member of the state militia, she recently joined with its members to petition San Francisco's Pride organizers to allow it to have an informational table during this year's festival taking place Sunday, June 29.
"They asked to have a booth at Pride, not to recruit but to say we exist and we accept transgender members," said Fox.
Last year, the state military department participated at San Francisco Pride for the first time by having a booth at the festival grounds and recruiting prospective members for both the National Guard and the state militia. But due to a public outcry, the board of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee voted in February to ban military recruiters from the festival grounds.
The ban on transgender service members played into the board's decision, said Pride Executive Director George Ridgely, adding that so did other issues members have with the military, such as its recruitment in minority neighborhoods and how it handles reports of sexual assaults.
"I do think it was a multi-layered situation," said Ridgely.
Pride board President Gary Virginia, in a May 24 email he sent to state militia officials, wrote that the board was willing to review its decision after this year's event.
"We remain open to further discussion, perhaps at a public community forum and/or SF Pride membership meeting this summer or fall," wrote Virginia.
The prohibition on military recruiters does not apply to the parade, though the state military department did not apply to march. Officials said it is partly because they want to be able to talk to people one-on-one to explain what the state militia is and that its policies are LGBT-inclusive.
"It is an organization who strives to be inclusive, and not only to be inclusive, but to be a model and example for the rest of the country. To have this organization banned from San Francisco Pride, to me, is absurd," said Bender.
The board's refusal to allow the state militia to have a table at Pride seems hypocritical, said Fox, when it will be honoring Chelsea Manning, the transgender Army private convicted of espionage for releasing classified U.S. documents to WikiLeaks, as an honorary grand marshal this year.
"She is convicted of espionage. How does that honor us?" asked Fox, who views Manning as a traitor to her country. "The part that really upsets me with their honoring Chelsea Manning is she has not done anything or stood up for transgender military members."
Fox, who works as an IT consultant, currently lives outside Sacramento but is in the process of moving to the city's downtown area. Born in Santa Clara County, she lived in San Jose until her parents separated and she moved to the state capital with her mother.
Divorced twice herself, Fox has four children from her previous relationships. Her two daughters are now 20 and 18, while her sons are 3 and 5 years old.
She is the director of outreach for the Transgender American Veterans Association and is working with the California Department of Veterans Affairs on an invite-only forum for LGBT veterans this September.
She also recently joined the board of the Sacramento LGBT Community Center. Fellow board member Matthew James Reese, a gay man who serves in the state military reserve, considers Fox to be a role model for himself and other soldiers.
"Sage is definitely an inspiration to me," said Reese, 24, who lives in Sacramento. He added "she is paving the way for the service members who will come after her and come out as trans."
When the Pentagon ban is finally overturned, as Fox predicts will occur within five years, she would like to return to the armed forces as a therapist or social worker once she earns her master's degree. Until then she plans to continue to speak out publicly about the issue.
"We are already serving and we've been serving for decades," said Fox. "Our allies have already proven having transgender service members is not an issue and can be done."
The U.S. military has nothing to gain by discriminating against transgender people, argued Fox, and can only gain by ending the ban against them.
"We are not asking for special privileges. We are asking for equal privileges and equal rights," she said.