Transgender student shifts career plans after future in military closed

Levi Hanson, a transgender student previously enrolled in WKU’s ROTC program, was recently informed that he could not become a contracted cadet due to recent federal policies dismissing transgender soldiers from the military.

Chris DiMeo

Most transgender individuals will not be allowed to serve in the United States military now, according to a memo issued by President Donald Trump Friday, March 23.

The decision ends a nearly three-month period starting on the first of January during which the president’s earlier commands to bar transgender service members were put on hold. Transgender is defined as someone who does not identify with their sex assigned at birth, according to the website for Trans Student Educational Resources.

This is the second time former ROTC member and Morgantown junior Levi Hanson, along with an unknown number of aspiring U.S. service members, has had the door to a military career closed in his face.

However, Hanson said he is paving his own way to pursuing his passion of helping others by finding new opportunities that he had not explored when he was focused on a military path.

“I’m kind of glad it happened because I’ve met people that I never would have met otherwise,” Hanson said.

Until Fall of 2017, Hanson was undecided in his major and was taking ROTC classes, aspiring to join the military as a soldier. But, as he told the Herald in September, these plans were put on hold following a presidential memo Aug. 25, 2017,instructing the military to stop accepting transgender recruits.

Now Hanson is an interdisciplinary studies major with a concentration in social justice and equity studies, which he said he hopes will lead to a career outside the military in raising awareness and educating people on social injustices.

He said being barred from the military, while unfair, helped him by requiring him to consider his options and focus on what he really wanted to do.

“I’ve always had … such an interest in helping people, and I didn’t know how to do that,” he said.

He said after talking to WKU’s Diplomat-in-Residence Michael McClellan and new friends he made across the country who read his story, he has some career options in mind, such as becoming a diversity officer in the federal government.

Hanson said while he isn’t anticipating plans to join the military anymore, it saddens him that “there are people out there who are actively trying to make sure we can’t exist.”

He said he feels people who oppose transgender individuals serving in the military are likely not fully informed on the issues and struggles of transgender people.

“I think that it’s, like, when you don’t know about something it’s scary,” he said. “When I say I want to help people that’s what I want to help people with, just help educate people, help bring awareness.”

Jeremy McFarland, senior and intern at WKU’s Pride Center, said employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity is a widespread issue for members of the transgender community.

“It’s something I think about every single time I apply for a job. If it has a background check, they’re going to know I’m transgender,” he said. “And there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Upon discovering an applicant is transgender, some employers may choose not to hire them, McFarland said. He said even once an applicant is hired, they may still be “bullied out” of the workplace by coworkers or may have to leave the job because they are not provided “adequate accommodation,” usually an understanding of their unique healthcare needs and expenses.

“This isn’t talking about nationwide, this is in this community,” he said.

McFarland said the problem is exacerbated by the fact that there is no federal or state legislation to prevent LGBT discrimination in the workplace. Bowling Green, like many cities, has not adopted a fairness ordinance that would outlaw firings solely on the basis of gender identity, he said.

McFarland said many transgender people consider joining the military as one of only a few options to obtain healthcare that covers transgender-specific needs. For these people, being told they could not join the military upended their life plans, he said.

“People woke up having not just kind of imagined this as a possibility for them, but [also having] gone through steps to establish that future for themselves and then woke up the next day and realized, ‘Oh no, I can’t do this because I’m transgender,’” he said. “And that’s a really painful thing to have happen.”

Barring transgender individuals from the military also has repercussions for the nation as a whole, McFarland said.

“I think we’re definitely limiting ourselves,” he said. “Trans people exist in all communities and in all economic brackets and in all education levels and have a whole myriad of impressive skills they could bring to these workforces but that they’re being denied access to.”

Fully permitting transgender people to express themselves and participate in the workforce also allows cisgender people to learn from the unique perspectives and experiences of transgender people, McFarland said. Cisgender refers to people who identify “as their sex assigned at birth,” according to the website ofTrans Student Educational Resources.

Hanson said that after the article about him was published on the Herald website, people from across the country reached out to him, touched by his story. One such person was a transgender high school student from Arizona who Hanson said has hopes to join the military.

“I don’t think I’m inspiring people, but just talking about it helps, letting people know that other people are going through the same thing,” Hanson said. “Just being visible, that’s enough to help someone get through their day.”

While he said he doesn’t expect the current administration to make lasting changes to the current transgender service policy, he said he is still optimistic for the future.

“All the bad things that’ve been happening in the world, in the United States specifically, I think it’s bringing awareness to all these issues that we need to address,” he said. “So I think a new generation that’s able to vote by this next election will be making a difference.”

News reporter Chris DiMeo can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]