In the first year of his presidency, Donald Trump sent shockwaves through the LGBTQ+ community by issuing a directive that transgender people could no longer serve in the US military.
President Trump reversed the Obama administration’s ruling that trans people could openly serve in the armed forces.
For Dana Delgardo, a Major in the US Air Force at the time, that news was devastating.
He told me via video call: “Initially it was disbelief. So many people have come out and so many talented people have come out. They’re a crucial part of the military, if we were to go backwards we’re going to lose so much talent.”
He continued: “I thought it was a joke at first. Think of all the people you put in danger within their units, I love the military, but we have the same infrastructure that civilians have.
“We have rednecks and racists in the military, we have people who don’t understand difference in the military. So now you’ve exposed them. Especially my trans female sisters.
“You’ve exposed them to people who don’t understand this and are hateful and in positions of power.”
President Trump initially tweeted the announcement, writing: “After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.
“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
Dana says the tweets were a divisive ploy to force people to come out – so they could be earmarked and eventually kicked out of the military.
eflecting on his experiences in the military, Dana tells me it was following President Obama’s decision to allow transgender people to openly serve that gave him the courage to come out to his military colleagues and affirm (transition).
A "Golden Year"
He had his gender marker changed to male and lived, he says, a “golden year”.
Describing the day Obama made the announcement he said: “You spend a lot of years hiding and it takes a toll on you emotionally but you suppress because you want to make sure you’re giving your 100% for something you love and that was the biggest day of my life.
“I can’t think of anything better than being able to serve openly.”
Fast forward just one year and the feeling for the Air Force Major was abruptly reversed.
President Trump issued the new directive and just under a year later Dana reluctantly retired.
Dana told me that following the decision by the president he went to his Commander and was told he couldn’t deploy so was kept on the base as “nobody had a clue how to move forward”.
What followed next was months of agonizing meetings, invasive, personal questions, and piles of paperwork.
The Air Force medical group requested he hand over his entire medical history and mental health records. Even after giving over all his private data, Dana was then asked for the records prior to his affirmation.
"I felt after that I was being sort of harassed to an extent, discriminated against, I know it was a policy but the way it was implemented made me feel less than," he told me.
“At that point I thought they’re looking for something. I felt that this was not going to be an easy process and maybe they were trying to kick me out.”
Following a distinguished career of more than 30 years – serving in both the Gulf and Bosnian wars – Dana took the difficult decision to retire early.
“I didn’t want to be dishonourably discharged or administratively discharged, I wanted to walk out with my head high on my own terms,” he said.
“I speak of the Air Force as my fifth appendage, part of my self-worth, my being, my character was taken away from me before I was ready to let go.”
The toll it took on Dana's own mental health was also felt by his children and his partner.
Financially too the family suffered, Dana had planned to marry his partner but the celebration had to be postponed after his retirement.
“I thought I would have that income until my kids finished college and that would be a cushion for them towards their college tuition and now it’s gone.
“My retirement has taken a toll on family, friends, finances, for sure,” he said.
Reflecting on the election, Dana saw November 3 as a pivotal time for the transgender community.
Dana had hope that on election day Americans would make a decision that will bring in someone “who cares about human beings and this country as a whole”.
He was also hopeful that the trans personnel who were forced out are given the opportunity to go back into the forces – something he would do without a moment’s thought.
When asked how he feels about Biden’s decision to reverse Trump’s transgender military ban, he said “I am thankful for my trans brothers and sisters in arms, this is and was long overdue. I am elated for those who stood the tide and continued the mission and the fight for those who were not able.”