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Transgender Air Force Officer On Trump's Ban And Supportive Fellow Troops

Mar 26, 2018
Originally published on March 27, 2018 4:09 pm

Late on Friday night, with President Trump's previous ban still tied up in the courts, the administration announced new restrictions on transgender troops serving in the military.

  • Transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria are disqualified from military service, except under limited circumstances.
  • Transgender persons who require or have undergone gender transition are disqualified from military service.
  • Transgender persons without a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria, who are otherwise qualified for service, may serve, like all other Service members, in their biological sex.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says transgender service members could "undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion and impose an unreasonable burden on the military."

"You can look at the data and see just the opposite is true," Lt. Col. Bryan (Bree) Fram told NPR's All Things Considered on Monday. Fram is an active-duty astronautical engineer in the Air Force, and is one of the thousands of transgender troops serving openly in the U.S. military — though Lt. Col. Fram emphasized that the views expressed in this interview are Fram's own, and do not reflect those of the Air Force or Defense Department.

Fram also serves as policy chair for Spart*a, an organization that represents active duty transgender service members.


Interview Highlights

On transgender service members' effects on unit cohesion

When Secretary of Defense [under President Obama] Ashton Carter announced the policy change, I was working in the Pentagon. And as soon as he finished up, I sent a letter to my colleagues, as well as made a public Facebook post, that explained that I was transgender, and why I was coming out.

I was concerned about what the reaction might be, and I ran off for my gym, hit the elliptical machine, and probably burned the motor out with all the nervous energy that I had.

But when I got back to my desk, the reaction was amazing. One by one the people that I worked with in my office said "it's an honor to serve with you." And I was floored, because they had it backwards — it's an honor to serve with all these great men and women in the United States Air Force that are so accepting, and understand that it's about getting the mission done, not about who you are. It's about what you can bring to the table, and making sure you have each other's wing....

I certainly was very lucky in what I had, and reactions vary. However, with good leadership, there's nothing that can't be accomplished. If the leader sets the climate, and sets the culture of the unit in such a way that everyone's contribution is valued and respected, the unit will follow along with that. Because we understand the value of just getting the work and the mission accomplished.

On gender reassignment surgery as a "disqualifying" factor

What you do by focusing on medical procedures ... is potentially turn transgender individuals into second-class citizens. As members of the military, we are afforded all medical care deemed necessary by a doctor. If you say that one class of citizen is unable to get that, you're separating them out and potentially setting them up for stigmatization or discrimination.

On what it means for those still rising through the ranks

I've been in the military a long time — I'm going to make it through this. I have a lot of resources at my disposal.

But for the 19- or 20-year-old person that's hearing that they're not wanted — that's a contributing factor to things like the depression or suicide that some people outside the military experience....

The military for transgender people is actually an amazing protective factor for those things ... as an accepting institution that provides medical care and a mission, a sense of purpose. And most likely the Defense Department is the largest employer of transgender people in the world. It's an absolutely amazing opportunity for us to get out there, serve and be respected for who we are and what we bring to the fight.

So having someone say that you're not wanted ... well, it hurts a little bit.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Late on Friday night, the Trump administration announced new restrictions on transgender troops serving in the military. As NPR's Tom Bowman explains, the announcement comes as Trump's previous ban on transgender service members is still tied up in the courts.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: First of all, nothing's going to happen right away. The federal courts have blocked any ban on transgender troops. And Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said today he's not going to talk about it for that reason. He also said he outlined his reasoning for the new policy in a memo, but it is confusing. And there are a lot of questions.

Now, Mattis said in his memo that there are, quote, "substantial risks to allowing the recruitment or retention of those diagnosed with gender dysphoria." He said such people could, quote, "undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion and impose an unreasonable burden on the military that's not conducive to military effectiveness in lethality."

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tom Bowman. And now we're going to talk with one of the thousands of current transgender service members. Bryan Fram, who also goes by Bree, is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. Welcome to the program.

BREE FRAM: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: I want to start by asking you to respond to what we just heard from Tom Bowman. The defense secretary, Mattis, says transgender service members could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion and impose unreasonable burdens on the military. Has that reflected your own personal experience?

FRAM: Not at all. I think all of those are areas where you can look at the data and see just the opposite is true. I want to start with a personal story about unit cohesion from the time that I came out. When the Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced the policy change, I was working in the Pentagon. And as soon as he finished up, I sent a letter to my colleagues as well as made a public Facebook post that explained that I was transgender and why I was coming out.

SHAPIRO: I should say Secretary Ash Carter was President Obama's defense secretary who made the announcement that transgender troops could serve openly. And on that day, you came out to your unit. What was their reaction?

FRAM: I did. So I was concerned about what their reaction might be. And I ran off for my gym, hit the elliptical machine and probably burned the motor out with all the nervous energy that I had.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

FRAM: But when I got back to my desk, the reaction was amazing. One by one, the people that I worked with in my office said, it's an honor to serve with you. And I was floored because they had it backwards. It's an honor to serve with all these great men and women in the United States Air Force that are so accepting and understand that it's about getting the mission done, not about who you are. It's about what you can bring to the table and making sure you have each other's wing.

SHAPIRO: Do you think other service members across the branches of the military are all going to have an experience as positive as yours was?

FRAM: So unfortunately no. I certainly was very lucky in what I had, and reactions vary. However, with good leadership, there's nothing that can't be accomplished. If the leader sets the climate and sets the culture of the unit in such a way that everyone's contribution is valued and respected, the unit will follow along with that 'cause we understand the value of just getting the work and the mission accomplished.

SHAPIRO: The policy announcement specifically cites gender reassignment surgery or gender confirmation surgery, as some call it, as a disqualifying factor. Do you think the focus on medical requirements is fair?

FRAM: I don't think so. What you do by focusing on medical procedures for the first place is potentially turn transgender individuals into second-class citizens. As members of the military, we are afforded all medical care deemed necessary by a doctor. If you say that one class of citizen is unable to get that, you're separating them out and potentially setting them up for stigmatization or discrimination.

SHAPIRO: You waited to come out until Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement of the policy change under President Obama. What does it feel like now to have a subsequent president say, we may try to roll things back to where they were before?

FRAM: It's disheartening. For me, I know that - I've been in the military a long time. I'm going to make it through this. I have a lot of resources at my disposal. But for the 19-, 20-year-old person that's hearing that they're not wanted - that's a contributing factor to things like the depression or suicide that some people outside the military, you know, experience because they're just not accepted by anyone.

The military for transgender people is actually an amazing protective factor for those things because as an accepting institution that provides medical care and a mission, a sense of purpose - and most likely the Defense Department is the largest employer of transgender people in the world - it's an absolutely amazing opportunity for us to get out there, serve and be respected for who we are and what we bring to the fight. So having someone say that you're not wanted - well, it hurts a little bit.

SHAPIRO: Lieutenant Colonel Fram, thank you so much.

FRAM: Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: Bryan Fram, who also goes by Bree, has served in the Air Force for more than a decade and is also the policy chair for SPART*A, an organization that represents active-duty transgender service members. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.