With military ban looming, first openly transgender West Point graduate looks for other work

Michael Walsh
Reporter

Riley Dosh, 22, of St. Paul, Minn., became the first openly transgender graduate of West Point in May. She dreamed of becoming an air defense artillery officer shooting down intercontinental ballistic missiles to defend the country she loves.

“That was the dream job with the Army. That’s what I wanted to do,” she told Yahoo News.

Now it seems that all her military training has been for naught. Faced with President Trump’s impending ban, which would prevent transgender people from serving in the armed forces “in any capacity,” she’s thinking about becoming a math teacher or perhaps a data analyst. On her graduation, she received her diploma and an honorable discharge.

In the coming days, as the Wall Street Journal first reported, the Pentagon will receive a two-and-a-half page memo with instructions for executing the White House’s new policy: Deny applications from transgender people, stop paying for current transgender service members’ medical treatment and consider “deployability” when deciding whether to remove current members from the military. According to the report, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will be given six months to prepare before fully implementing the administration’s ban.

Harper Jean Tobin, the director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Yahoo News it’s striking that Trump is expected to roll out his administration’s rules for banning transgender people from the military mere days after he declared that there’s “no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry” in the armed forces during his speech at the Fort Myer Army base Tuesday night.

Riley Dosh graduated from the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., in May 2017. (Photos: Riley Dosh)

“He’s doubling down on discrimination by pressing forward with this ban,” Tobin said. “It’s an insult to service members and an attack on the thousands of trained and capable service members and veterans. It’s also unconstitutional to service out these service members who are doing their jobs in this way.”

Trump’s policy essentially reverses former President Barack Obama’s directive to lift a ban on transgender service members. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in June 2016 that the policy would be phased in over a one-year period.

Dosh did not start identifying as transgender until her junior year. She came out to a few close friends before coming out publicly just before the second semester of her senior year. She understood the Obama-era policy to apply to cadets.

“I waited because really there was fear that I wouldn’t be allowed to commission,” Dosh said. “At the time I felt safe and that I would be allowed to and I wanted my peers to remember me for who I really am before we split ways.”

But three weeks before graduating, Dosh was told she would not receive a commission because Army brass didn’t feel it would be appropriate while the transgender policy was under review.

Dosh was diagnosed with gender dysphoria while studying at West Point. (Photo: Riley Dosh)

“I’ve been looking for work ever since,” she said. “I did not transition at all while at West Point. The only reason I was flagged as being transgender is because I had a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. That’s it. That diagnosis is the only thing that made me different from my peers. I met all other standards as male.”

Alaina Kupec, 48, who is from Raleigh, N.C., but now lives in Orange, N.J., is a transgender Navy veteran who did not start transitioning until she completed active duty. She said it’s shocking that the military could adopt a tolerant policy that convinces transgender people that they can feel comfortable serving openly and then reverse it after they out themselves.

“You’ve encouraged people to serve openly and now you’re punishing them for doing so,” she told Yahoo News. “You’ve leaving them in a situation where when they put their head to rest tonight, wherever they are around the world, they don’t know what their career has in store for them. That’s just an abdication in leadership on the part of the White House to not think about the impacts on those people.”

She always knew how she felt inside but didn’t know how to put it into words and had no idea that others felt the same. It wasn’t until she got her first home computer in 1993 while serving as an intelligence officer, with a clearance for top secret and above, that she learned about gender dysphoria: it was both liberating and sobering.

“What it meant was that I could no longer move forward and serve my country because with my clearance I was subjected to polygraph tests,” Kupec said. “You would be asked questions like ‘Is there anything that could be used to blackmail you?’ Knowing this about myself, how I felt inside, I couldn’t honestly answer that question.”

Alaina Kupec poses for a picture aboard the USS George Washington in the Mediterranean Sea in 1994. (Photo: Alaina Kupec)

Because of her gender identity and the military’s policy at the time, she decided to move back into private life in 1995 after a successful four-year career in the Navy. She said she was awarded “ground officer of the year” for her F/A-18 squadron, which was a first for an intelligence officer, and two achievement medals for leadership.

“For me, it was difficult having to choose between what I felt myself to be inside and what I wanted to do professionally,” she said. “When progress started being made around this very topic, it made me so grateful that the country was moving to a place where your gender identity didn’t matter. What should matter is your ability to do the job.”

As with other important policy proposals, Trump used Twitter to announce his decision to ban transgender people from the military. On July 26, he argued that the military could not be “burdened” with the “tremendous medical costs” and “disruption” of transgender people.

The announcement was immediately denounced by the LGBT community. Navy SEAL veteran Kristin Beck told Yahoo News at the time that Trump was taking liberty away from the very people who secure his.

The Palm Center, a public policy think tank at the University of California, Santa Barbara, recently published a study showing that discharging transgender troops would cost the military around $960 million. The researchers multiplied the number of current transgender service members (12,800) by the average per-person cost of recruiting and training replacements ($75,000).

Initially, Dosh enrolled in West Point because she wanted the kind of self-discipline that “you don’t learn anywhere else.” As time went on, however, she met people from all across the United States and took on the added motivation of loving America and wanting to defend it. She’s not surprised with the Trump administration’s ban but considers the reasons for it “frankly stupid.”

“Really it’s about bigotry at the end of the day,” she said. “And everyone knows it.”

Dosh and fellow cadets from the class of 2017 at West Point. (Photo: Riley Dosh)

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