Editors' Note: Pam Daniels is a writer, activist, and a member of Garden State Equality's Board of Directors, with 26 years experience in broadcast news and media including the staff of a former Governor.
Jennifer Long, a 29 year veteran in the Army, including combat in the Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan, had to "reverse cross dress" to finally retire. I'll get to the details of that in a moment.
Many of you know I've been writing about Jenn here on Bilerico for more than a year while she served in Afghanistan and was taking female hormones with the help of a military doctor during that combat tour. Jenn was promoted to Sergeant Major and awarded the Bronze Star before she came home. During that combat tour last year she came out as a transwoman to the U.S. military doctor who renewed her estrogen prescription, as well as nearly a dozen male and female service persons, who were then, and remain today, her dear and supportive friends.
Somehow the U.S. Army was totally oblivious that Jenn was a transitioning transgender woman while she served. Why? Because it didn't matter, that's why. Jenn always got the job done, whether she was the tail gunner in an armored personnel carrier, a "tactical trunk monkey" as Jenn called it, or working as the top ISAF (really NATO) liaison between the commanding colonel of a division of French Army soldiers and the top American generals back in Kabul, - Jenn got the job done!
That French colonel recommended Jenn be awarded the "French National Defense Medal" to the French Defense Ministry in Paris. France, Le lieu de naissance du Marquis de Lafayette! Jenn received that medal this spring. Vivre La France!
Jenn finally achieved her dream of earning a degree in Business Finance from Fairleigh Dickinson University this past May and began her search for a job days later. I'm pleased to report Jenn has interviewed with two major insurance companies in the New York area and, get this, a defense contractor interested in hiring her to go back to Afghanistan - this time as a woman - and possibly earn a six figure income! Jenn had a top security clearance while she served.
This past May and June Jenn got involved with me at Garden State Equality. Together we made a presentation to bias crimes officers from all over New Jersey and the FBI. Jenn and I also represented GSE at a conference sponsored by a major company headquartered in lower Manhattan on LGBT inclusive health insurance.
We chatted as we walked the block from the parking garage to that company's building and Jenn's voice cracked.
As we waited for a light to cross the street I looked at her and noticed tears welling up in her eyes so I asked Jenn, "are you okay?"
Jenn's smile beamed before any waterworks threatened her eyeliner and mascara as she answered, "Yes, I'm fine. I'm finally here where I belong, as Jennifer!"
We crossed the street together, just two more middle aged businesswomen, blending in with everyone else. It was a moment of empowerment for both of us.
Two weeks later Jenn had the hair transplant she'd been planning for several years to fix a receding hairline. With the encouragement and support of friends Jenn decided to go to her first job interviews in more that a decade without wearing her wig.
All off the three companies Jenn interviewed with did thorough background checks of her as Ed. It didn't matter. Jenn says her being transgender "Never came up" during all three interviews.
Well, with all this progress in mind, Jenn still had one more hurdle to jump over with the New Jersey National Guard.
Jenn came out to her commanding general and all the top brass back in May while she was graduating college and legally changing her name without a hitch, but a couple weeks ago in August Jenn would have to report to Fort Dix here in South Jersey to finalize the paperwork that would officially retire her from the Army and set up her benefits at the VA. Jennifer's brand new NJ driver's license not only displayed a female gender marker but also had her new photo, with her long hair. However, to get through the main gate at Fort Dix she'd have to use her male military ID. Decisions, decisions!
Preferring not to be stopped by the guards at the main gate of Fort Dix while they confirmed she's really, or was "Ed," Jenn decided to "reverse cross dress" that day. For the last time in her life, 47-year-old life Jenn would do her best to look like "Ed" for the guards.
Okay, take the earrings off, no make up, wear a comfortable sports bra and loose fitting shirt to hide her estrogen amplified "B" cup breasts, but hey, she did that in Afghanistan already right? But wait, what if a State Trooper pulls her over on the New Jersey Turnpike, then what? Jenn would look like "Ed" which doesn't match her new drivers license. I've witnessed many of Jenn's "WTF" moments - I only wish I'd witnessed this one!
Well, I love writing stories with happy endings . . . Jenn, posing one last time as "Ed" didn't get stopped by cops while she was driving, and the guards at Fort Dix looked at "her," then looked as "his" ID and waived "him" really "her" through!
Oh, the woman at Fort Dix that Jenn had to meet that day just smiled and processed all the paperwork, no questions asked!
My questions remain. If more than a third of Fortune 500 companies, two of which Jenn has interviewed with, don't care if an applicant or employee is transgender, why shouldn't the military be required to accept transgender service members? Lastly, when will the U.S. Congress pass and the president sign into law, a bill that outlaws all discrimination against LGBT people for employment, housing and access to public accommodations in all 50 states?