'Fired by tweet:' Troops, veterans react to transgender ban

(Roger Sayles)

SAN DIEGO (AP) - A former U.S. naval combat-tested officer said she feels angry that President Donald Trump is saying transgender veterans like her should be considered unfit to serve.

Another transgender service member said he will not be kicked out without a fight.

Transgender veterans and active-duty troops spoke Wednesday about Trump's Twitter pronouncement banning transgender people from military service.

Here are their stories:



Paula M. Neira, who left the Navy in 1991 and transitioned to female after leaving active duty, said she was angry at Trump's announcement. It brought up bad memories for the naval officer, who served on Sept. 11, 2001.

She said the commander in chief is sending the message that the country does not want transgender troops.

"Nobody who is willing to volunteer to defend our country should ever be told that they're not fit because of other people's prejudice, and not because of any military necessity," she said.



Rudy Akbarian, 26, said he will not leave the armed forces without a fight.

"I'm just serving as a soldier just like anybody else," Akbarian said.

His chain-of-command was supportive of him as he transitioned from female to male.

"Everybody is hurt. Everybody is scared," he said. "This is people's lives we're talking about. People who enlisted nearly 20 years ago and now 18 or 19 years in, now that's being taken away and they don't get to retire?"



Alaina Kupec, a Navy intelligence officer from 1992 until 1995, said she felt "heartbreak" after she heard about Trump's tweet. The 48-year-old transitioned to life as a woman in 2013.

"It just really saddened me for the transgender sailors and soldiers who are serving around the world today and are selflessly giving themselves to protect our country," said Kupec, who lives in Orange, New Jersey.



Air Force veteran Vanessa Sheridan said transgender people have always served in the military but now they are going to have to hide their identities if there is a new policy.

"My biggest concern now is going to be that transgender people are going to be forced back into the closet," said Sheridan, who is director of transgender relations and community engagement at Center on Halsted in Chicago.



Capt. Jacob Eleazer, 31, who serves in the Kentucky Army National Guard, took the day off from his job as a therapist in Lexington to figure out the situation.

"Fired by tweet. It was honestly pretty shocking," he said.



Combat veteran Shane Ortega, a transgender man in Los Angeles who served in the Army and Marines for more than a decade, said troops who are forced out may get a bad conduct discharge for being transgender, jeopardizing their VA benefits and future.

"That's the equivalent of being a convicted felon in American society," said Ortega, 30, who transitioned to a male in 2009, seven years before leaving the military after serving multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. "They will not get gainful employment."



Blake Dremann, a transgender, active-duty Navy lieutenant commander in Washington, said he will continue to serve "regardless of what was said today."

"Trans service members are continuing to do our jobs," said Dremann 36, president of SPARTA a trans advocacy group. "People know who we are now and it becomes personal, especially when you've got families that are going to be affected by this."



Emma Shinn, 41, a transgender woman who served in the Marine Corps for 20 years before retiring in 2014, said it was incredibly stressful to work under the military's previous policy that banned LGBT service members.

"It creates a gulf between the service member and his or her fellow Marines," said Shinn, who lives in Castle Rock, Colorado.

What matters most is if "you have my back in a firefight," Shinn said.


Associated Press writers Dylan Lovan in Louisville, Kentucky; Teresa Crawford in Chicago; Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island; Tatiana Flowers in Denver; Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Cathy Bussewitz in Honolulu contributed to this report.