PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- For most of her life, Jennifer Long functioned like a two-pan scale, trying to maintain balance between two identities. The first: Sgt. Edward Long, an infantry veteran with a Bronze Star. The second: Jennifer Long, a transgender woman.
But nowadays, after legally transitioning from Edward to Jennifer, she balances everything together, owning both identities as a veteran and a transgender woman.
"I started questioning gender so many years ago and I started at a time when there was no internet. There was no way to know who you were. You just knew that there was something different and you just went on with it," said Long during Picatinny Arsenal's first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Celebration on June 30.
This annual event was held only weeks after the tragic nightclub shooting in Orlando, where a security guard killed 49 people and wounded 53 others inside "Pulse," a gay night club. The arsenal's celebration aimed not only to educate its workforce about the LGBT community but also to discuss its relationship within the military.
President Bill Clinton established June as "Gay and Lesbian Pride Month" on June 2, 2000. But, LGBT Month was established in the United States on June 1, 2009 by President Barack Obama.
Picatinny's celebration was hosted by the arsenal's Equal Employment Opportunity Office. It involved an invocation led by Lt Col. Terrance Walsh, the arsenal chaplain, and opening remarks by Brig. Gen. Patrick Burden, Deputy Program Executive Officer Ammunition and Senior Commander of Picatinny Arsenal.
Long, who was the event's keynote speaker, said the decision to transition from a man to a woman was not spontaneous, even though she had questioned her gender from a young age.
"You do your best to suppress it-- I tried to suppress it for many years. That's why I joined the military," explained Long. "At the time, I was questioning my gender and I thought 'Oh, I'll join the infantry. That will make everything right.'"
Long started her career in the infantry in April 1983, where she rose to the rank of sergeant and led combat teams. After completing a deployment in Iraq in 2009, she began her gender transition by starting Hormone Replacement Therapy.
Looking at a 'double life'
However, in 2010, she delayed her legal portion of transitioning to join a second deployment in Afghanistan.
When she returned home, she received the Bronze Star for her actions in Afghanistan, completed her degree in finance at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and finalized the legal portion of her transition.
"Eventually, you get to the point where you say 'I can't hide this anymore' and you start acting out a little bit and looking at a double-life," said Long before describing the first time that she introduced herself as Jennifer Long.
"It's like I was a secret agent of my own life. I would be in uniform during the day and then at night, you go back out and do different things. It felt great. But, at the same time, it's very hard. It hurt so deeply to have to put that down and go be first sergeant Edward Long every day, knowing who I was and who I wanted to be.
"It boiled down to two things. One: I was afraid of my mother," Long lightly joked. "I don't care how old you are and how many combat tours you've been on, we're all afraid of our mothers. I mean, we want that support and approval. We don't want to break her heart."
"And, second: I was afraid of how I would find a job. I knew I wouldn't be able to stay in the military. All you ever heard were these horror stories," said Long.
"So, being the good Soldier that I was, following the decision making process and developing courses of action, I started to decide 'If I could do it--how would I do it, what would it look like?' Then, eventually it went from 'if' to 'how' and then I slowly made the transition."
By May 2012, she legally became Jennifer Long. Four months later, on August 20, 2012, she left the military service.
"People generally don't embrace change. They have tough times dealing with change," said Long. "When we don't understand something, we put up walls and don't want to understand it and we push things off.
"Some people do change. I knew guys in the military, when I first transitioned, who would put their hands in my face in the hall and say to me: 'get away.' And, these were guys that I knew for years," shared Long. "But now, at least with two of them, they've come around a little and we're friends again."
Long is now a financial service professional with Primary Financial Services in Fairfield, New Jersey.
She also serves as the finance chair for the LGBT Caucus of New Jersey Democratic State Committee, is Post Commander for her local veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1302, and serves in various roles with numerous councils and committees.
Recently, she also won a case against the Department of the Army that allowed her to change the name of her DD-214 record of military service, and outcome that will help pave the way for other former transgender service members.
The Fight for LGBT rights
"Today, what I want to highlight is how much change has happened in the military. You know, we used to have time where it was: 'Don't ask. Don't tell.' And, when it was lifted, everyone thought that there was going to be all this turmoil in the military," said Long.
"I remember when I had to give briefings at the battalion level, so many people thought that this change was going to be the end of the U.S. military."
"But, when they lifted the ban, nothing happened," Long continued. "Everybody just went back to work. If someone was lesbian, gay, or bisexual, their service went on. Now, when they found out about trans-folks, they lifted that."
The fight for LGBT rights in the military is not new. According to the website defense.gov, Dr. Frank E. Kameny, a World War II veteran, fought for gay rights.
Also, Technical Sergeant Leonard P. Matlovich, a Vietnam War Veteran who earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, was one of the first gay service members who challenged the ban on homosexuals in the military.
On June 30, 2016, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that transgender persons will be allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military.
Under this new policy--which will take effect by October 2016--transgender troops already serving will be allowed to receive medical care and formally changing their gender identifications.
A year from now, the military service will also allow transgender individuals to enlist, as long as they have been stable in their identified genders for 18 months.