Any veteran will tell you that the transition back to civilian life can be difficult for a returning soldier. For LGBTQ veterans like me, the discrimination we face in housing, employment, health care and day-to-day life makes this transition even more complicated.
This Military Appreciation Month, I joined the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and hundreds of other veterans in calling on Congress to stand up for veterans by supporting a federal nondiscrimination law to protect the LGBTQ Americans who have defended our nation’s freedom and the more than 13 million gay and transgender people across the country.
When I was discharged from the Army after a sudden and disabling injury, my life plans went out the window. I had recently graduated from Officer Candidate School as the only woman to graduate in the top 20% of the class. I’d gotten a dream placement as an engineer officer and had spent weeks deployed in the Hurricane Harvey relief effort. I intended to spend the next several decades in the Army. My path seemed clear. Until it wasn’t.
After I was discharged, my wife and I had to find a new place to live. I had to find a new job. We tried to guess which cities and industries would be most accepting. We worried about whether we would land on our feet. In the end, the process of rebuilding our lives ended up being trial and error.
First we moved to Virginia, to a town where we hoped we could settle down. But we soon learned that staying safe meant constantly having to navigate which stores, shops, bars, restaurants and spaces we were “allowed” to frequent. We decided to start again in Idaho, but found similar issues in our new town. It took moving three times to three different states before we found a real community — right here in Anchorage — where discrimination wasn’t a near-daily reality.
We love our life here. Our new neighbors have welcomed us with open arms. When my injuries allow it, I walk with my wife through some of the most wild and beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. And there’s nothing better than a summer evening in Alaska.
Still, we know that LGBTQ people experience discrimination in every state in this country, and Alaska is no exception. A recent survey found that more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than 3 in 5 transgender Americans. Whether we are treated unfairly by an employer, a landlord, a bank, a store clerk or a medical provider, discrimination is wrong, and it is harmful.
I recently had a very troubling interaction with my primary care physician in Anchorage that left me shaken and worried for the LGBTQ patients in her care — especially her young patients, for whom support and acceptance is especially critical. As someone who identifies as nonbinary and gender non-comforming, I wanted to take testosterone to be more androgenous, as many nonbinary people do. When this doctor was told by medical staff that I wanted to start taking testosterone, she reacted badly. She called my cell, yelled at me, made very anti-gender expansive/transgender statements, and dropped me as a patient.
Unfortunately, medical discrimination of this kind is a reality for LGBTQ patients all across the country — especially in states that don’t have anti-discrimination protections. Right now, 29 states including Alaska lack comprehensive statewide laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people. While 21 states and more than 350 cities have passed LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, this patchwork of protections is unsustainable and leaves too many people behind.
As long as Congress fails to act, America’s LGBTQ veterans remain vulnerable to discrimination in our daily lives, including in housing, health care, credit, lending, federally funded programs and in public spaces. The time has come to update our federal laws to provide comprehensive protections for all LGBTQ Americans, including veterans and active-duty service members.
As a veteran and a proud LGBTQ constituent, I’m asking Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to show moral leadership and engage in good faith negotiations to get a federal nondiscrimination law passed as soon as possible. This law would bring returning LGBTQ soldiers the peace and stability they deserve. My fellow veterans have fought for all of our freedoms. Shouldn’t our senators take a stand for theirs?
Bri Kerbuski is an Army veteran, proud member of the LGBTQ community, and lives with their wife in Anchorage.
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