Transgender Navy lieutenant: ‘My job would be easier if I could just go to the restroom’


Growing up in San Diego with Mexican immigrant parents, Lieutenant Martinez never imagined he would one day end up working at the Pentagon.

He was recruited while he was still in high school, he said. After more than a decade of service and deployment to the Arabian Gulf, he landed in D.C. for an analyst job.

“There are just things that you don’t ever expect to happen to you. Every time I walk in to the building I feel a sense of awe,” Martinez, 29, told Fusion in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Martinez also never imagined that his colleagues in the Pentagon would yell at him just for going to the bathroom.

When the building’s unisex bathrooms are occupied, “I’m stuck using the women’s restroom because I have a women’s uniform,” said Martinez, who is transgender and identifies as male. “People think I’m going in to the wrong restroom.” He said the women’s uniform looks very similar to the men’s uniform, but the men’s pants have a back pocket.

“My job would be easier if I could just go to the restroom where I feel comfortable and not get yelled at,” he said.

Martinez believes he is the first active Latino Navy service member to speak out about being transgender in the military. He asked that his first name not be included in the story due to fear of the consequences; he has seen two Navy members end their careers by coming out as transgender.

Navy service member Landon Wilson was discharged in 2014 after he told superiors he was trans, according to the Washington Post. Reservist Rae Nelson informed her superiors that she was transgender after a six-month medical leave last year. Shortly after she was re-assigned to an Individual Ready Reserve position. “I’m still a member, but I’m not doing anything until the end of my contract,” Nelson told the Arkansas Times.

The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy ended in 2011, and since then gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members have been able to serve openly. But transgender service members still cannot.

There are 15,500 active duty transgender service members — Williams Institute

Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Monday said his department’s “current regulations regarding transgender service members are outdated and are causing uncertainty that distracts commanders from our core missions.”

Carter said he would form a ”working group to study over the next six months the policy and readiness implications of welcoming transgender persons to serve openly.”

Martinez chose to come out in part to help “humanize this problem,” he said.

“I’’m not speaking out to rebel. I want to encourage people to ask questions, get to know us, to see that we’re everywhere,” Martinez said. “We do exist, and we do need this change, and it’s not that big of a deal.”

Transgender Americans are twice as likely to serve in the military than the general population, according to The National Transgender Discrimination Survey published in 2011 by the gay rights organization The National LGBTQ Task Force.

There are 15,500 active duty transgender service members, according to an analysis from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, which researches sexual orientation and gender identity laws.

The Defense Department does not keep track of how many service members have been discharged for being transgender

In October 2014 the American Civil Liberties Union and the Palm Institute, a research institute at San Francisco State University, hosted transgender military personnel from 18 countries that allow them to serve openly.

Amongst the attendees were service members from some the United States’ closest allies, including Canada, England, France, Israel and Australia.

“We do exist, and we do need this change, and it’s not that big of a deal” — Liutenant Martinez

Ahead of the convening, the Palm Institute published a report that found its “central conclusion is that formulating and implementing inclusive policy is administratively feasible and neither excessively complex nor burdensome.”

Martinez said he’s experienced more serious discrimination than being yelled at going in to the restroom, but declined to go into detail.

“I’ve always strived to be best naval officer I can be. I love the military and I value every part of the job, but it’s very frustrating,” Martinez said.

Martinez described a constant anxiety about being seen with his girlfriend when they are out in town together or someone bumping into him if he hasn’t shaved that day.

“I worry about someone finding out and it’s unnecessary stress,” he said. “It’s overwhelmingly wonderful to think about me going to work without having to worry about these issues one day,” Martinez told Fusion.

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