Transgender Veterans

The Transgender Americans Veterans Association recently visited DC and laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Here’s Phyllis Frye’s report from

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Cry
TG veterans lay wreath at Tomb of Unknown Soldier
By Phyllis Randolph Frye

We met in D.C. as part of an event sponsored by the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) (
In our group that weekend were over forty veterans who are transgendered, including a WWII TG Vet, a TG Korean Vet and two who had been in the Gulf War. The rest of us were of various ages and had served our nation in uniform between those conflicts. Significantly, not all of us were white and not all of us were male to female. Those attending reflected the diversity of our country and of our current military.
On Saturday morning, May 1, we loaded up at the event hotel onto a chartered bus and were escorted with sirens and flashing lights by a D.C. police car driven by a member of the gay liaison in the police department. It was strictly V.I.T. treatment.
We offloaded at the Vietnam Veterans Wall and spent several hours with other tourists at the Wall, at the Korean Memorial and at the newly opened World War II Memorial.
As we initially began to walk along the Wall, one of the transgender veterans that I was walking behind began to falter. I quickly came up to her and said, “you have someone on this wall.” She said yes, a cousin, and that this was her first time here, and she did not know it would affect her so strongly. Another vet and I took her to get the cousin’s name location. When we found the cousin’s name, it was high up on one of the tallest panels. The Park Ranger set up a ladder and took a rubbing off of the wall. This transgendered veteran began to sob, and I held her close for several minutes.
I have been to the Wall six times now, and it is always a powerful experience.
We went to the Korean Memorial and to the World War II Memorial. While at WWII, we sat to rest and a woman approached us, saying that she and her husband had met some in our group and were curious as to the name of our group. We gave them the full story. and they sat down to visit and to learn. They were very proud of our coming that day and said they wanted to attend the placing of our wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier scheduled for 3:05 that afternoon.
Throughout the weekend, our entire TAVA group shared similar stories of ordinary citizens, touring the memorials, and showing respect for our being veterans.
Next we bused to the Iwo Jima Memorial for a short visit and picture taking.
Then we bused to Arlington National Cemetery and walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Solder. If there was ever an appropriate place for transgender veterans to be, it was here. For it is truly unknown as to just how many we are.
We were asked that question by people throughout the day. My answer was ‘many.’ When you think of it, what more masculine occupation would an emerging FTM want to try than the military? Indeed there are documented stories of FTM folks serving and fighting in the American Revolution and the Civil War. And for an MTF who is doing everything possible to deny or trying to kill-off the feminine impulse, what better way to try. That is why so many of us MTFs are Eagle Scouts and veterans as well as police officers, firefighters and paramedics. Yes, lots of us.
We watched a Changing of the Guard (twice each hour on the half-hours) and a Laying of the Wreath (four times each hour at 5, 20, 35 and 50 minutes past the hour) for another group.
We learned later that our wreath had been somehow lost, but members of our Transgender Honor Guard (selected by drawing of names from a hat at the previous night’s reception, sponsored by Mara Keisling’s organization, National Center for Transgender Education, located in D.C.) would have none of that. They went up the chain of command and within five minutes, our wreath was found.
And as it was placed, the Sergeant of the Guard announced in his clear and bold voice, just as he had done for the previous group, ‘This wreath is being placed by the Transgender American Veterans Association.’
I began to cry. Others did too. For those of you who do not know, I began to be an out activist on August 20th of 1974 – almost three decades ago. It is always a struggle to get people to give us the simply human dignity of using our name. I was expecting him to short us by saying TAVA, or tgvets, or something less. But as he stood in his dress blues, at that sacred site and proclaimed the words, ‘This wreath is being placed by the Transgender American Veterans Association,’ I began to cry.
Then there was a salute.
And then there was TAPS.
After the ceremony, I went with two transgender veterans to find the markers of people that were significant to them who were buried there. It was a beautiful thing to do.
That night we had a dinner. Speeches were made. More healing took place. The next morning many of us shared breakfast and then we went our ways to our homes.
As much as I have been through for transgender rights in the past, almost thirty years, this was different. I was changed by it.
I hope that the leaders of TAVA do it again.
I hope that you come with us next time.

Phyllis Randolph Frye is a nationally-acclaimed transgender activist and attorney. She received an Honorable Discharge after serving 1971-72 as 1 LT (Reg.) in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps in Landstuhl, Germany.
There are pictures of the event online, too, at

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