After ROTC, transgender student finds administrative support

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.

Rebekah Alvey

LOSING COMMUNITY

Morgantown junior Levi Hanson was undecided about what he wanted to do in the future or what to major in when he arrived at WKU. He just knew he wanted to feel like he was helping people.

Hanson, a transgender male, began taking ROTC classes last year and was working toward becoming a contracted cadet in the program. But when President Donald Trump announced the policy change to not allow transgender individuals to be recruited into the army, Hanson’s plans were forced to change.

Hanson said he was doubling up on classes, participating in physical training and team-building labs and had even received a meal plan scholarship through ROTC.

“You want to be involved with something, you want to be strong and help the nation,” Hanson said.

While still undecided on his major, Hanson thought joining the military would be a way of helping others while learning and exploring the world. The military could also provide him with job security.

Last year, Hanson came out as transgender. He started hormone treatments this year and is taking testosterone, transitioning from female to male.

On July 26, Trump, in a series of three tweets, said transgender individuals would no longer be eligible to serve in the military.

{{tncms-inline account=”Donald J. Trump” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……</p>— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/890193981585444864">July 26, 2017</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/890193981585444864″ type=”twitter”}}

{{tncms-inline account=”Donald J. Trump” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..</p>— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/890196164313833472">July 26, 2017</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/890196164313833472″ type=”twitter”}}

{{tncms-inline account=”Donald J. Trump” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">….victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you</p>— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/890197095151546369">July 26, 2017</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/890197095151546369″ type=”twitter”}}

On July 27, the Department of Defense released a statement from chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White, saying the department is “awaiting formal guidance from the White House as a follow-up to the commander-in-chief’s announcement on military service by transgender personnel.”

“We will provide detailed guidance to the department in the near future for how this policy change will be implemented,” the statement reads. “The department will continue to focus on our mission of defending our nation and on-going operations against our foes, while ensuring all service members are treated with respect.”

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Trump officially instructed the military on Aug. 25 to not allow transgender individuals to be recruited into the army and left the decision on currently serving transgender individuals up to the departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

On Aug. 29, in a statement from Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, the Department of Defense announced they had received Trump’s new policy and would be reviewing and implementing it.

“Our focus must always be on what is best for the military’s combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield,” Mattis’ statement reads. “To that end, I will establish a panel of experts serving within the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president’s direction.”

After learning about recent policies, Hanson said he approached Brandon Smith, a recruiting operation officer at WKU.

Smith said he informed Hanson he would not be able to become a contracted cadet but encouraged him to stay enrolled in ROTC classes in case policies were to change in the future.

“Unbiased, professional,” Smith said about informing Hanson. “You treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

Job opportunity was a large concern for Hanson, but he said he was encouraged to know about legislation passed in October allowing transgender individuals to be in the military and receive medical benefits that would help cover transitioning costs.

Legislation passed in October

A week after Hanson fully discovered this “plus,” Trump tweeted about the change in policy which stated transgender individuals will not be allowed to serve in the military. Hanson said he didn’t immediately take the tweet seriously because no policies had actually been passed.

Once he was informed he would no longer be able to be contracted as a cadet, Hanson said he didn’t realize he would be affected so soon. Additionally, Hanson was also informed he was ineligible for his scholarship.

After hearing the news, Hanson said he was upset because he felt he no longer had a choice and he was being told he couldn’t do something because of his identity. He also said his career path had come to a halt.

“Makes me feel like I don’t have a place,” Hanson said. “Whereas I felt comfortable being out before, and now, I feel like I don’t belong, and I know there are people who don’t want me a part of this community.”

Hanson’s boyfriend, CJ Wicker, is also transitioning from female to male. Wicker said he felt things were not going to improve in the near future.

“Things are going to get worse for trans people now,” Wicker said.

Wicker said he was also discouraged by the idea that being transgender is a “medical condition” or a “physical ailment.”

“It’s who you are,” Wicker said.

After the incident, Hanson approached Campbellsville senior Jeremy McFarland, who is an intern at the PRIDE Center and works with several LGBTQ clubs. McFarland said it was something he felt the WKU administration needed to know about, which led him to approach Tiffany Robinson, the university registrar.

Robinson notified Hanson he would receive a scholarship which would replace the meal plan scholarship provided by ROTC. Hanson said he was amazed to get the scholarship and felt supported immediately.

After seeing Robinson’s response, a representation of the WKU administration to him, McFarland said it was a supportive statement that the negative ideas are not being endorsed.

After his experience and the support he received, Hanson said he is determined to be more involved with the LGBTQ community and encourages people to visit clubs such as the Transgender and Nonbinary Group and the Queer Student Union, which are a “safe space.”

Now, Hanson is enrolled in classes outside ROTC and is carrying on with his other activities, such as playing on the women’s rugby team. Hanson has plans to play on the men’s team and said he has received support with that decision.

Hanson is looking into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math majors but said he misses the ROTC classes and its strong community.

“I’m sad to not feel a part of that community,” Hanson said.

Lydia Schweikart contributed reporting for this article.

Reporter Rebekah Alvey can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]