Transgender military personnel from 18 countries across the world gathered on Monday to discuss whether the US military could join them.
The conference, entitled Perspectives on Transgender Military Service from Around the Globe, was the first and largest international gathering of trans military service members, gathered in Washington, DC.
In the US, the 2011 repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for gay and lesbian service personnel never applied to transgender members, and the defence department still refers to trans people as having “psychosexual conditions.”
Despite this, an estimated 15,500 transgender individuals currently serve in the military and there are believed to be up to 140,000 transgender military veterans.
The military is required to discharge personnel if they are found out to be trans.
Speaking at the conference, Major Harding told of her experience joining the Australian military.
“It’s quite a common pathway for people who are gender conflicted, trying to fix what we see is wrong with us, and see the military as the way of doing that,” she said.
She added: “I’ve lost count of the number of times it would have been so easy to drive into that oncoming truck.”
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Major Alexandra Larsson, an intelligence officer with the Swedish Air Force, said she had “the best job in the world.”
“The problem today is that it depends on who you are and where you are. And it shouldn’t be like that. Everybody should have the same opportunity … but hopefully people can look at me and say at least ‘for her it was possible.'”
Sarah Maskell, Squadron Leader at the British Royal Air Force, said: “Without doubt, the more mature our inclusive policies become, the better our operational delivery becomes, because we have got people who are being themselves, they are being authentic in the workplace, without having to have personal challenges alongside that.”
Corporal Natalie Murray, of the Canadian air force, said she loved her job, but “it was rough to say the least.”
“They wanted to get rid of me as quickly as they could, either out of the military, out of the Canadian Forces as a whole or for that matter off the planet — which they came very close to doing,” she said.