When Janet Schwartzenberger enlisted in the Air Force in 1975, there was no way for her to marry her two identities: Someone who wished to serve her country and live as a transgender woman.
Schwartzenberger, a Spokane Valley resident who was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base from 1987-1990, said she watched as policies changed, from a culture where it was encouraged to report your colleagues – who would be immediately discharged – if they were gay or lesbian, to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the Clinton administration, all the way to the Obama policy that would allow transgender people to openly serve.
Schwartzenberger, who retired as a staff sergeant in 1996, was never able to serve openly, but she was thrilled for future generations.
“I have a couple of what I call my adopted trans kids that were very much interested in going into the service and I thought it was great that they would be able to actually go in and serve their country as the gender they are,” she said.
Now, the future is less certain for Schwartzenberger’s “adopted trans kids.” She said they were hesitant to enlist once Donald Trump was elected president.
“They didn’t want to try to get in, be in for like a couple of months and be told that they’re being kicked out for being trans,” she said.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the Trump administration permission to restrict military service for transgender people.
The restrictions would prohibit transgender people from serving unless they served as the gender on their birth certificate, with an exception for those who already began serving openly on the presumption of the Obama rule.
“They are going after what they feel is the weakest link of the LGBT community,” said Schwartzenberger, who is the reigning lady debutante of the Imperial Sovereign Court of Spokane, an LGBT advocacy group.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.