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Trump’s Transgender Ban Brings Chaos and ‘a Lot of Fear’ to Troops’ Families

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 4/12/2019 By (Samantha Allen)
a person smiling for the camera: Parker Radbourne © Provided by The Daily Beast Parker Radbourne

Peg Fram was driving when she learned the president wanted to fire her spouse.

Back in July 2017, Trump tweeted that “transgender individuals” would no longer be allowed “to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.” Those “individuals” included Bryan Bree Fram, an Air Force lieutenant colonel and non-binary transgender person who serves as the communications director for the advocacy group SPART*A. Bree called Peg as the latter was driving from Minnesota to D.C. to deliver the news.

“I pulled over and I have to say, I hyperventilated a little bit,” Peg Fram told The Daily Beast.

A million questions ran through Peg’s mind as she talked to Bree on the phone: “What does this mean? Does this mean you don’t have a job anymore? Does this mean we’re just done?”

The couple was 14 years deep into military life by that point. They were raising two little girls, who are now aged 10 and six. The family was also single-income: Although Peg has a degree in forensic science, she had stopped working years ago, in part because crime labs were reluctant to hire someone as transient as a military spouse—and because a second job would only go toward child care expenses anyway.

In that panicked roadside moment, Peg realized she might have to go back to school in order to re-enter her career field.

“The comfortable life that I had come to know and we had gotten used to—it felt like it was being ripped out from under me, and I literally had no idea what my first step was going to have to be,” she told The Daily Beast.

Peg Fram is not alone. The Trump administration’s transgender troop ban, set to go into effect on April 12, has affected not just “individuals,” but entire families, too.

Advocates for transgender service members refer to this as the “hidden impact” of the troop ban, because media coverage tends to focus on the service members themselves rather than the policy’s broader impact on spouses, partners, and children.

“It’s this ripple effect that I don’t think people fully comprehend,” said Fram.

Several partners and spouses of transgender service members told The Daily Beast that the last two years of court cases, injunctions, and Supreme Court drama have been an emotional rollercoaster. They have watched the Trump administration transform the ban from a series of tweets into an actual policy that will go into effect in mere days.

“The thing that has been the most stressful about this is just the constant up and down of it,” said Emily Starbuck Gerson, whose partner Jamie Hash came out in the Air Force shortly after the Obama administration lifted the original ban on transgender military service in 2016.

Like Peg Fram, Gerson remembers well the day of the infamous tweets, when she and Hash met at home to console each other: “There was a lot of sadness and a lot of questions about what this means for her future and for our future.”

Since then, the couple—currently based in San Antonio—has been riding the ups and downs of the various developments in the transgender troop ban story, culminating in the Supreme Court’s January 2019 decision to allow the ban to go into effect.

Gerson described a cycle that took place every time there was a new court decision or policy revision: “Every time there’s been a development, it sort of throws everything into chaos. We scramble to figure out what it means, we get bombarded with messages [from friends]—all on top of the emotional side of, ‘Is this going to actually affect us?’”

a man standing next to a dog: Jamie Hash, left, and Emily Starbuck Gerson. Handout © Provided by The Daily Beast Jamie Hash, left, and Emily Starbuck Gerson. Handout

Gerson, like many partners of transgender service members, has found herself providing a lot of emotional support within her relationship—and then realizing that she needs to heal, too. When the January Supreme Court decision came out, for example, she and Hash had to turn a Washington, D.C. getaway into a much less joyous occasion.

“I spent a couple of days trying really hard to prop her up emotionally and help her get through it,” said Gerson. “But then after a couple days, I noticed it hit me, and I started feeling really down and sad. That does happen sometimes where I feel like I need to be strong for her, but then it catches up with me and I need a couple of days to mope.”

Gerson, who works as a writer, has been coping in part by blogging about LGBT rights. Her partner—like Peg Fram’s—has been grandfathered into the military under a clause in the forthcoming ban that allows any transgender service member who received a diagnosis before April 12 to avoid discharge.

Even then, the policy puts added stress on the couple: For one, Gerson and Hash wonder whether or not the latter will be able to become an officer. (According to the Palm Center, which studies LGBT issues in the military, the policy does allow transgender service members who have been grandfathered in to seek officer commissions, but there has been confusion on that point.)

Through it all, Gerson said, Hash has been “an angel sent from heaven,” staying calm and re-enlisting last year, determined to serve in the Air Force as long as she can.

“I think sometimes it gets to me more than her,” Gerson admitted.

For other partners of transgender service members, it has been even more harrowing to deal with the potential loss of income and the uncertainty around opportunities for advancement.

Nirvana Lee, whose transgender wife is an staff sergeant in the Air Force, is disabled, which means she relies on the military for both income and medical care through the government’s TriCare insurance program.

Living in South Dakota, the couple feels like they have “no support,” as Lee told The Daily Beast. ( SPART*A has been a lifeline for families in such situations who feel as though they lack an in-person support system.)

Lee’s wife was in Korea for 15 months while the transgender troop ban was litigated, “so you can imagine how hard that was and how terrifying that was for me,” she said.

“If she was unable to be in the military, we would be in a lot of trouble medically—because that’s mainly what TriCare does for us,” said Lee. “Considering that I can’t get my own insurance if we were to be out of the military, that kind of trickled down and scares me to death.”

Lee’s wife has been grandfathered into the military, having received a gender dysphoria diagnosis in May 2018. But the past two years have, understandably, left Lee feeling scared that even those who have been grandfathered in will not be safe.

“You never know what the future holds with that kind of stuff,” said Lee.

Jordyn Elliot also relies heavily on TriCare, which she receives through her transgender wife, who serves in the Air Force. Elliot suffer from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which means her joints can be easily dislocated from even a sneeze or a tight hug.

The uncertainty around her wife’s career prospects has been terrifying.

“We were relying on her becoming an officer so that when it gets to a point where I’m too ill too work, we can survive financially,” Elliot told The Daily Beast. “It’s not a matter of if, but when for us. It’s a lot of stress on her financially.”

But through it all, the couple—currently based in San Antonio—has actually gotten closer. Relying on each other, said Elliott, has “taught me a lot more communication [and] a lot of resilience.” Still, there’s no denying the stress that the ban has put on the couple—and their eight-year-old son, who she says now gets bullied at school “for having two moms, and [because] one of the moms was once a boy.”

“I feel like it’s a ripple effect of hate outward,” said Elliot. “It’s not just my spouse being ridiculed for being transgender, which is enough, but it’s also my child and myself.”

Many children of transgender service members, like Elliot’s little boy, are too young to understand what’s happening, let alone decipher a byzantine military policy.

But one 15-year-old son of a transgender service member, who spoke to The Daily Beast with his mother on condition of anonymity, was able to vocalize the stress of watching a parent endure the last two years. Even now, the service member’s career is threatened.

“It’s been stressful,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fear, just wondering whether my parent will be able to go to work, wondering whether there will be any changes in the household. A lot of wondering [and] speculation.”

When both son and mother saw the Trump tweets in 2017, the pain was immediate.

“I remember seeing [them] and just crying,” the mother said.

“It was a mix of confusion and sorrow and wishing that things would change,” the son added.

More often, though, children of transgender service members are too young to say how they feel—even if it’s clear they are aware of the stress their parents are going through.

That’s the case for Peg Fram’s little girls. After over a decade of keeping Bree’s identity a secret from everyone—including her own family—to avoid outing Bree, Peg has found comfort inside her nuclear family, where both girls have known for years.

Peg has continued taking care of her family full-time, even though she still has has occasional “mini-panics” about what life would look like if she had to go back to work.

“They’ve taken everything in stride,” said Fram, of her daughters.

Both girls are too young, Fram added, to “understand prejudice and hate like that,” and yet “they’re feeling the stress and anxiety that we’re feeling as their parents, and they don’t understand what to do about it.”

But that doesn’t stop their youngest, now six, from tying to comfort her hurting parents.

“I swear every five minutes, she comes up and hugs us,” said Fram, noting that the behavior has become more common in the last two months as the ban approaches.

When the little girl embraces her parents, she says, simply, “I love you. I love you.”

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