Transgender Americans openly enlist amid uncertainty

CHICAGO, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Transgender Americans are openly enlisting in the U.S. military for the first time, saying they feel confident that court rulings blocking Republican President Donald Trump's ban on their service will stand.

Nicholas Bade, a 37-year-old transgender man who is among the first of what advocates expect will be a small but historic surge of enlistments, has wanted to join the military since he was young.

"I just couldn't face the idea of doing it as a traditional female," Bade said as he carried a folder of medical documents into a Chicago Air Force recruiting office last week.

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Transgender members of the military

Nevada Army National Guard Sergeant Sam Hunt, an electrician with G Company, 2/238th General Support Aviation Battalion poses for a photo on the flight line at the Army Aviation Support Facility in Stead, Nevada, U.S. May 12, 2017. Hunt is the first openly transgender soldier of the Nevada National Guard. 

(Tech. Sgt. Emerson Marcus/Nevada Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs/Handout via REUTERS)

Former US Army Colonel and transgender Sheri Swokowski talks with reporters on July 27, 2017 in DeForest, Wisconsin, the day following US President Donald Trumps announcing of a ban on transgender military members.

(DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Transgender former US Air Force member Vanessa Sheridan poses for a photo after talking with reporters in Chicago, Illinois on July 26, 2017. Trump announced that transgender people may not serve 'in any capacity' in the US military, citing the 'tremendous medical costs and disruption' their presence would cause.

(DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Kristin Beck, a former U.S. Navy SEAL, speaks during a same-sex marriage rally to celebrate the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Salt Lake City, Utah, June 25, 2014. The U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday that conservative Utah may not ban gay couples from marrying, a decision that capped a day of victories for same-sex nuptials and nudges the issue closer to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

Alaina Kupec poses for a portrait at Logo's 'Trailblazer Honors' on June 23, 2016, in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

(Photo by Ungano & Agriodimas /Getty Images Portrait)

Transgender military pilot Shane Ortega arrives at IDENTITY: Timothy Greenfield-Sanders The List Portraits exhibition opening at the Annenberg Space for Photography on September 22, 2016 in Century City, California.

(Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)

Former US Army Colonel and transgender Sheri Swokowski carries her uniform July 27, 2017 in DeForest, Wisconsin, the day following US President Donald Trumps announcing of a ban on transgender military members.

(DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Former US Army Colonel and transgender Sheri Swokowski raises the American flag at her home on July 27, 2017 in DeForest, Wisconsin, the day following US President Donald Trumps announcing of a ban on transgender military members.

(DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Transgender former US Air Force member Vanessa Sheridan poses for a photo after talking with reporters in Chicago, Illinois on July 26, 2017. Trump announced that transgender people may not serve 'in any capacity' in the US military, citing the 'tremendous medical costs and disruption' their presence would cause.

(DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Transgender Retired US Army Colonel Sheri Swokowski prepares her uniform on July 1, 2016, at her home in DeForest, Wisconsin. Transgender personnel will no longer be barred from serving openly in the US military, the Pentagon announced on June 30, 2016. Lifting the ban on transgender service members is 'the right thing to do, and it's another step in ensuring that we continue to recruit and retain the most qualified people,' US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told reporters.

(DEREK HENKLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Hayden Brown with his girlfriend Mia Scott at home on July 28, 2017 in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The transgender solider says he was told, days after President Trump banning transgender people from the military, that he must carry out the rest of his military career as a woman if he wants to keep his job. Hayden Brown says that just days after Donald Trump tweeted he was to ban all transgender people from the military, he received a call from his unit telling him he must revert back to female to continue his service. The 23-year-old from Pennsylvania has been in the armed forces for four and a half years, initially identifying as a woman.

(Ruaridh Connellan/Barcroft Ima/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Collect image of Hayden Brown with his military comrades at the presidential inauguration briefing at the Washington Redskins stadium on January 20, 2017 in Washington DC. A TRANSGENDER solider says he was told, days after President Trump banning transgender people from the military, that he must carry out the rest of his military career as a woman if he wants to keep his job. Hayden Brown says that just days after Donald Trump tweeted he was to ban all transgender people from the military, he received a call from his unit telling him he must revert back to female to continue his service. The 23-year-old from Pennsylvania has been in the armed forces for four and a half years, initially identifying as a woman.

(Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Hayden Brown with his girlfriend Mia Scott at home on July 28, 2017 in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The transgender solider says he was told, days after President Trump banning transgender people from the military, that he must carry out the rest of his military career as a woman if he wants to keep his job. Hayden Brown says that just days after Donald Trump tweeted he was to ban all transgender people from the military, he received a call from his unit telling him he must revert back to female to continue his service. The 23-year-old from Pennsylvania has been in the armed forces for four and a half years, initially identifying as a woman.

(Ruaridh Connellan/Barcroft Ima/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Brock Stone, who is based at Fort Meade and has served in the Navy for 11 years, including a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, speaks to reports federal court with his team from the ACLU on November 9, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. Brock Stone is challenging President Trump's policy banning transgender people from serving in the military.

(Photo by Jason Andrew for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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Military officials do not know how many transgender people have begun to enlist since Jan. 1, when the Defense Department began accepting openly transgender recruits. But advocates said they believe dozens, if not hundreds, of transgender people will seek to join an estimated 4,000 already serving.

Aspiring transgender military service members in several U.S. states told Reuters they were pushing ahead with enlistments despite lingering uncertainty about whether they would be welcome in the future.

"I'm not worried," said Logan Downs, 23, an Oregon transgender man working to join the Air Force.

Trump caught the Pentagon off-guard when he tweeted in July that transgender people would be banned from serving in the armed forces, citing healthcare costs and unit disruption.

The Obama Administration had decided in June 2016 to allow transgender service members to serve openly, and a deadline of Jan. 1, 2018 was later set to begin accepting recruits. The decision came five years after the military ended its ban on gays serving openly, scrapping the "don't ask, don't tell" policy adopted by the Clinton administration in 1994.

Trump's reversal also blocked government-funded sex-reassignment surgery and other treatments for active-duty personnel.

But federal judges in Baltimore and Washington, where civil rights groups filed lawsuits against the policy in August, blocked Trump's move.

A Pentagon review of the issue will be finalized in February and forwarded to Trump, who is expected to make a decision on the future of transgender personnel in March.

"We're definitely not out of the woods yet, but we have so much momentum," said Nicolas Talbott, 24, of Lisbon, Ohio, one of the transgender people who challenged the ban in court.

This week, he planned to finish his Air Force National Guard enlistment paperwork, he said.

Bianca Wright, of Seattle, has eagerly waited to re-enlist after leaving the military and pursuing a gender transition following 14 years of service, including deployments to Iraq.

After Trump's declaration, "that all came crashing down," she said.

Critics of Trump's ban pointed to a Rand Corporation study that estimated annual transgender healthcare accounted for only $2.4 million to $8.4 million of the more than $50 billion in Defense Department healthcare spending.

Rand also found 18 other countries allowed transgender members to serve, and Australia, Canada, Israel and the United Kingdom saw little or no impact on operational effectiveness.

Starting this month at U.S. recruiting offices, transgender individuals can note if their gender identity does match their gender at birth and disclose related surgeries or treatments on medical forms without being disqualified, said Gaylan Johnson, a spokesman at the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command.

Once in the military, where gender determines housing, uniforms and physical fitness requirements, such recruits would use bathrooms and facilities aligned with their identity, Johnson said.

What kind of acceptance they find from boot camp to active duty may vary by unit, said Zander Keig, a Transgender American Veterans Association board member.

Bade, the Chicago enlistee, said, "The people I know in the military have said, 'I don't care what your gender identity is, as long as you can do your job.'" (Reporting by Chris Kenning, Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Richard Chang)

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