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Political Notebook: Transgender college student fights to join US military

by Matthew S. Bajko

Since the sixth grade Dylan Kohere knew he wanted a career in the military. Both his grandfathers were drafted into the Army during World War II, and the resident of Mount Olive, New Jersey, intends to sign up for the same branch of the armed forces after graduating from college.

"In talking with military recruiters, the Army felt like the best place for me. I see taking myself as far as I can in going up the ranks and doing whatever they need me to do," said Kohere, 18, in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

In the spring he purposefully accepted admission to the University of New Haven, a private four-year school located in West Haven, Connecticut where he is majoring in criminal justice, due to it having an Army ROTC program on campus. As explained on the program's website, Army ROTC graduates earn the bar of a second lieutenant and are commissioned into either the active Army, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard.

When he arrived on campus this summer and signed up for ROTC, Kohere informed university officials that he is transgender. Having never had a transgender person apply for the program before, the university at first was unsure if he could enroll in it.

After researching the issue, the leaders of the program informed Kohere he could not officially take part in ROTC but could sit in on the program as a classroom cadet. Outside of taking classes, Kohere is not allowed to join the other ROTC cadets in their physical training or in their labs on Fridays, where they learn about weapons and other military basics.

"I have never been enrolled in the ROTC program," explained Kohere, even though he is living in housing on campus designated for ROTC cadets.

The reason for his being barred from the program was President Donald Trump's July 26 announcement, via Twitter, that he was ordering the military to ban transgender people from enlisting. The policy had been scheduled to take effect March 23, though the military immediately deferred allowing transgender people to enlist.

"Since the president's decision, my life has been thrown into chaos as I determine what this means for my life ahead. I have been told by my ROTC commander that I cannot train with my fellow cadets," wrote Kohere on the Huffington Post website. "When my roommates head off to training at 6 a.m., I go by myself to the gym. My career plans are in disarray, and my opportunity for an ROTC scholarship is gone."

In August Kohere joined with seven other transgender plaintiffs, some civilians and others service members, to sue the Trump administration in an attempt to block the anti-transgender policy from taking effect next year. Their lawsuit, Doe v. Trump, was filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Advocates and Defenders.

As the B.A.R. reported last week, the federal judge in Washington, D.C. hearing their case issued a nationwide injunction putting Trump's policy directive on hold until the lawsuit challenging the new ban can be settled. In her 76-page memorandum ruling issued October 30, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, a Clinton appointee, predicted that the transgender plaintiffs are likely to win on their claim that the Trump ban violates their rights to due process and equal protection.

Doe v. Trump is one of four lawsuits various legal groups have filed against the Trump administration over the policy. A federal judge in Baltimore will hold a hearing Thursday, November 9, in the Stone v. Trump case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of six transgender service members. The focus of the proceeding will be on whether to also issue a preliminary injunction against the ban.

Another hearing has been scheduled for Monday, November 20, in a federal court in Riverside, California for the lawsuit known as Stockman v. Trump. NCLR, GLAD, and the law firm of Latham and Watkins LLP filed that case on behalf of seven transgender individuals, some already serving in the military while the others wish to enlist, and the statewide LGBT advocacy organization Equality California.

"Last week, we secured a nationwide injunction that halts Trump's ban," stated NCLR legal director Shannon Minter. "Right now, every transgender service member is protected, and qualified transgender Americans who wish to enlist can do so as of January 1, 2018. But we know this battle is not over - every federal court that declares this ban unconstitutional moves us closer to a permanent end to this nightmare for our dedicated and courageous service members."

A federal court in Seattle is hearing the fourth lawsuit, which was the first to be filed, brought by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and OutServe-SLDN on behalf of two transgender people barred from enlisting, a transgender woman who has been in the Army for 12 years, and the LGBT advocacy groups the Human Rights Campaign and the Gender Justice League.

For the time being, despite the judge's ruling last week in his lawsuit, Kohere remains a classroom cadet and not an official ROTC member.

"I am working right now to get everything into place so, hopefully within the next couple of weeks or so, I can join back into the program," said Kohere, who is working with medical professionals on a treatment plan for his gender transition, which he expects to complete while at college.

His being unable to fully join the ROTC program has not soured the start of his freshman year of college. Kohere has received support from his fellow cadets and other students he has met on campus and is enjoying the courses he is taking.

"I am still getting the education I was looking to get and I am meeting new friends that support me to the end," he said. "This is just one obstacle, basically, I am working on getting past."

After the adviser of his gay-straight alliance in high school alerted him that the LGBT legal groups were looking for plaintiffs to join the federal lawsuit, Kohere immediately filled out the form to do so. Being in the military, he said, "is a basic human right I believe everyone deserves."

But his "real motivation behind joining this case," Kohere added, is that he hopes "to make the world better not only for myself but for the tens of thousands of other transgender service members in the military right now. This can greatly impact their lives."

San Jose LGBT center joins vets parade
Due to Trump's move to ban transgender military service members, the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center decided to march in this year's San Jose Veterans Day Parade. It has invited local transgender groups and individuals to be part of its contingent. Those who do are asked to bring their transgender and rainbow pride flags with them to the event Saturday, November 11.

"For the transgender military members who can't be out, we made the decision to march in the parade on their behalf, so they know there is support for them out there," Gabrielle Antolovich, president of the DeFrank's board of directors, told the B.A.R. in early October. "They just need to see we are there, because we are an LGBT community center and represent the entire LGBT community."

The DeFrank center is contingent #54 in the parade and will be gathering near the SAP Center, 525 W. Santa Clara, in downtown San Jose. The parade is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.

The following day, Sunday, November 12, several LGBT contingents will take part in the San Francisco Mayor's Salute to Veterans Parade. It will begin at 11 a.m. at North Point Street and the Embarcadero and wend its way through Fisherman's Wharf.

As in years past, the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band will perform in the parade. Also marching will be members of the primarily LGBT Alexander Hamilton Post 448 of the American Legion. Another LGBT-focused veteran's organization, the Bob Basker Post 315 of the American Legion, will also be participating in the parade and marching with the Veterans For Peace SF Chapter 69.

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported that gay CA state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) now has a GOP challenger in the insurance commissioner race next year.
Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ .
Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail


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