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“At the age of 27 I finally feel like I can begin my adult life,” said Nic Talbott, just two days after President Biden fulfilled his campaign promise and on Monday signed an executive order reversing a ban on transgender troops serving in the military.
“It’s simple: America is safer when everyone qualified to serve can do so openly and with pride,” Biden said on Twitter after signing the order.
In an interview with Yahoo News, Talbott said he’s been dreaming of enlisting in the military since he was young. But instead of realizing his childhood ambitions, he’s spent the last couple of years living in his rural family home in Lisbon, Ohio, picking up employment across odd jobs including substitute teacher, Amazon delivery driver and courier for local vet clinics.
Working as a self-described “Jack of all trades” wasn’t how he expected his career to unfold.
After graduating from Kent State University in 2015 with a degree in sociology and criminology, Talbott enrolled in the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program, a course designed to prepare young adults for careers in the military.
That plan fell to pieces when then-President Donald Trump announced on Twitter in July 2017 that he was reimposing a ban, the lifting of which by the Obama administration in 2016 allowed people who had transitioned to a new gender, like Talbott, to join the military.
For a year, federal court injunctions kept the ban from being imposed, but in 2019 the Supreme Court allowed it to go forward. The new policy meant that transgender troops could serve, but only according to their biological sex assigned at birth, and if they hadn’t recently been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Since the policy took effect, only one waiver of this kind was granted, according to CNN.
Under the new guidance, Talbott was forced to drop out of the course.
“I was invited to stay in the program and continue to participate ... but the difference would have been I wouldn’t have been eligible for any of the benefits, including the main benefit of getting a job with the Army,” he said.
Fellow recruits were “shocked” when they heard Talbott, a top student who was placed on an accelerated track in the program, was leaving and told him they thought the ban was “the most ridiculous reason possible” for him to have to go.
After leaving the program, Talbott decided to join the legal battle challenging the ban and became a plaintiff in the lawsuit Stockman v. Trump.
“My philosophy through the whole thing was to keep my eyes on the prize,” he said. “I knew there would be a light at the end of the tunnel, and now I’m prepared to be the best soldier I can possibly be on a moment’s notice.”
It is unclear how many people have been affected by Trump’s policy. Some data from 2016 shows there were between 2,150 and 10,790 transgender individuals in active service or in the reserves, according to the Rand Corp., a Pentagon-funded think tank.
Critics accused the Trump administration of instituting a ban that had no credible military justification. A 2020 report by the Palm Center, an independent research institute focused on LGBT issues, and co-written by former military surgeons general, found the transgender ban had hurt military readiness.
Less than 24 hours after hearing the news that Biden was ending the ban on transgender troops serving in the military, Talbott received a call from a recruiter at his previous ROTC program to discuss his options. He’s hoping to return to school for an advanced degree and rejoin the ROTC.
“I am so excited for the military to be able to look at me and my credentials without having to worry about anything else,” he said.
Talbott said the most difficult part of the ban is the effect it’s had on his family.
Sadly, his grandmother, who was his “biggest supporter,” died last year.
“The hardest thing is knowing that she didn’t get to see this ban repealed. But I know she had faith that this would happen,” Talbott said.
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