ANAHEIM, Calif. — President Joe Biden kicked off his inclusive LGBTQ agenda this week. Among several executive orders, the president ended the ban on transgender troops serving in the military, reversing his predecessor's restriction.
In Anaheim, one transgender woman, Stephanie Wade, who has served in the military, said she's elated at the news and for all of Biden's efforts to set the national tone for gender inclusivity. She said this marks an important moment in history, but it wasn't an easy moment to get to for her.
Wade has been openly comfortable in her skin for about four years after starting her transition in 2016. But it was a difficult decision.
"I sought the help of a therapist because it was either that or kill myself," Wade said. "And I knew I couldn't do that because I loved my kids. And that's when I started to transition."
In her 20s, Wade enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corp. She served as both an enlisted combat engineer and an infantry officer on active duty for more than eight years and later rose to captain's rank. Wade said she didn't take her oath lightly; she would have gladly laid down her life to protect her country.
"Military folks are not asking for special treatment in any respect; we just want equality, not subject to discrimination," she said.
In 2011, former President Barrack Obama repealed a ban on openly gay men and women and bisexuals to serve. In 2016, Obama allowed all transgender service members to serve. Yet in 2017, then-President Donald Trump stopped enforcing that law and tweeted that the country would no longer "accept or allow" transgender Americans to serve, citing "tremendous medical costs and disruption."
"If your only choice is to suppress who you are and that's the only way you get along in life, that's not American," Wade said.
In 2021, Biden is reversing course, allowing transgender Americans, transitioning or not, to serve in the military.
"Thank god," Wade said of the reversal.
Wade said Biden's agenda moves mountains for others who may be too afraid to come forward, as she once felt when she hid for 50 years.
"I suppressed this deeply even though it created tremendous angst and really only dealt with it in mid-life," Wade said.
Now she's a board member for Equality California, working hand-in-hand with the Biden administration to correct alleged past discrimination against the LGBT community in the military. Equality California is working on getting LGBT troops and veterans fair treatment during and after service.
Wade said she lobbies Congress and the current administration to "finally and quickly address the needs of more than 200,000 LGBT veterans who need to correct bad conduct discharges or adverse information on their military discharges that subject them to employment discrimination and prevents them from accessing veterans benefits because of past anti-LGBT military policies."
Equality California also was a plaintiff in the lawsuit to reverse the Trump ban on transgender military service. Wade said it isn't a choice to be transgender, only one to express it.
"I came out completely and fully in June 2019 in Orange County Pride, and my life has been so much better ever since," Wade said.
A 2019 Gallup poll finds that 71% of Americans support transgender people to serve in the military. But conservative critics said president Biden's reversal comes with a hefty price tag. A Pentagon study suggests healthcare costs for transgender military members would be nearly $10 million a year. For comparison, a Military Times Analysis found that the military spends almost $42 million on the drug Viagra alone.