By Mary B. Grimes CECOM Public AffairsAugust 21, 2017
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- "This transition has been harder on me than anything I could imagine. And that's the case for so many others besides me. For that reason alone, trans people deserve something vital. They deserve your respect. And from that respect comes a more compassionate community, a more empathetic society and a better world for all of us."
These words by actress, activist and producer Caitlyn Jenner, herself a transgender, mirror the sentiments expressed by some advocacy groups, medical professionals and other subject matter experts across the nation. Toward that end, they are unwavering in their efforts to promote inclusivity, dignity and respect.
In recent weeks, members of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Maryland, have like many across the DOD spectrum, joined in Transgender policy awareness sessions held at their respective installation. For APG, the professional delivery of DOD policy practices and guidelines presented by Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Toolin, Equal Opportunity Program Manager, APG, was carried out in clear and understandable language, and each time, with dignity and respect.
Army Directive 2016-35 establishes policies and procedures for gender transition in the Army. Toolin became a familiar face to members of the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) community as he led Transgender awareness discussions and responded to a bevy of questions regarding DOD's implemented policies.
The Equal Opportunity Program Manager said of the training, "My primary goal was to educate the workforce on the current policy in place. I think the sessions went very well. I was able to facilitate training 10,000 employees -- both civilian and military, not just here at APG, but worldwide using video teleconferencing capabilities."
While the DOD message may have been abundantly clear, preconceived ideas and opinions were in no short supply. According to CECOM Public Affairs officials, when several individuals who had attended the Transgender policy awareness session were asked what they thought of the training, their responses ranged from 'I don't know what to think,' 'I learned a lot about the transgender transition process,' 'I have my own convictions,' 'We should just let people be who they are,' 'It's all too confusing,' to 'I don't agree with any of it.'
Chiming in, Toolin said, "In my view, the most significant issue addressed during the training and discussions was the use of bathrooms and personal privacy. I tried to reinforce that first, it is policy. Second, transgendered individuals are not trying to act maliciously in bathrooms when they use the facilities. They are going there for the same reasons we all are. We have to respect people for who they are."
With the call for dignity, respect and understanding leading the Transgender messaging effort, Tracy Marshall, Program Manager, SHARP Resource Center, APG, added, "Communication, adherence and an understanding of not only DOD Transgender policy, but Transgender processes will be central to the Army and the nation's ability to successfully move forward."
To move forward however, will require that everyone understands just how the transition process starts. Toward that end, Army officials say that transition in the Army begins when a Soldier receives a diagnosis from a military Medical provider (or a civilian medical provider if the Soldier is ineligible for military medical care) indicating that gender transition is medically necessary. Officials say that gender transition ends when the Soldier's gender marker in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment System (DEERS) is changed to show that Soldier's preferred gender.
Said one CECOM employee who attended the policy awareness session, "I never knew that. I had no idea about the process. Had I not attended the session, I probably would never have known or understood all that is involved."
While the mandatory Transgender awareness session may be over, Toolin said future training will focus on reinforcement of the policy, lessons learned, policy change and cultural awareness.
As officials have stressed throughout DOD, the Army remains steadfast on the ideals that anyone who can meet the standards for service and readiness within the United States Army will be allowed to serve.
"Everyone has deep rooted values and life views. We have to respect everyone and ensure fair treatment for all persons solely based on merit, fitness, and capability in support readiness," said Toolin.
"The EO philosophy is based on fairness, justice, and equality to ensure everyone is treated with dignity and respect."