Photo: Olga R. Rodriguez/AP Photo

Blue Montana was kicked out of the Marines for identifying as LGBT: 'It broke my heart'

In 2005, after serving almost 13 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Blue Montana was kicked out—discharged for identifying as lesbian under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He started his transition the next day.

It was the second time someone in Montana’s family had faced discrimination for identifying as LGBT within the armed forces. In 1992, Allen Schindler, Montana’s cousin and a Navy sailor, was brutally beaten to death in Japan by one of his shipmates for being gay.  

“The only way they had to identify him was by his tattoos,” Montana says. “Every bone in his face was broken.”

The next year, Montana enlisted in the Marines in Schindler’s honor. He was only 17.

For Montana, as for many current and former members of the military, President Donald Trump’s announcement yesterday that transgender people would be barred from military service was like a “big slap in the face.” Trump’s decision, revealed via a series of tweets, reverses an Obama administration move to allow transgender troops to serve openly in the U.S. military.

However, the military isn’t rushing to implement new rules. Today, as Reuters reported, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford sent a letter to military chiefs saying there would be no immediate change in Pentagon policy until the White House provided further directives, and that the military would continue to “treat all of our personnel with respect.”

“We’ve been around, we’ve been here, and there’s been no negative outcome, nothing bad happening, so all of a sudden why is this a problem?” Montana asks.

Today, he is the transgender program manager at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada—known simply as the Center in Las Vegas—where Montana helps other trans people through support groups, doctor referrals and legal assistance.

ABP spoke with the transgender veteran about discrimination in the armed forces, working with the transgender community and the irony of Trump’s decree on trans troops.

You joined the Marine Corps as a female. What did you experience?

A lot of sexism. I was pretty butch, so to speak. You could tell that I wasn’t your normal girlie girl. It was a lot of sexual harassment from the male marines. I went in in 1993 and we [female marines] only made up 8 percent of the Marine Corps at the time. We stuck out like sore thumbs. We always had to excel at what we did and make ourselves stand out a little bit more than the guys did. It was challenging.

Did you know any LGBT fellow marines while you were serving?

After I enlisted I found some fellow LGBT—more LGB than T—enlistees. We just kind of hung out together and protected each other the best we could. Someone would stand watch one day, and a couple of people would go to the bar, and they’d call and let us know if the MPs were following people that night. We did what we had to do to protect each other and make sure that nobody got caught.

Blue Montana, left, served in the Marine Corps for almost 13 years. He says Trump's ban on military service by transgender people was a "big slap in the face." Courtesy of the Center

How did you get kicked out of the Marine Corps?

I got injured, and somebody outed me as being gay identified. I didn’t deny it, because at the time it was the only identity I had to hang on to. I felt that if I said, “No, I’m not,” I would’ve been lying even more than so than I was covering up my trans identity. So they processed me out under fraudulent enlistment because I didn’t tell them, even though they didn’t ask.

Different branches handle it differently. It really kind of depends how your commanding officer handles it. Some of them are just more homophobic than others. I happened to be on the unlucky end of that.

How did you feel when you were kicked out?

It broke my heart quite honestly. I was lost for a while. I did three and a half tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was dealing with some PTSD issues and dealing with recovery. It was hard. I went in when I was 17 years old; I turned 18 in boot camp, so that was really the only life I knew. I wanted to do my 20 years or possibly more and then retire, and I was really close to that. It was quite a sting. It took me a while to recover from that.

How do you negotiate being a dedicated marine but also being part of an institution that doesn’t really accept you for who you are?

You just kind of learn who your friends are, and keep your friends close and your enemies closer. You learn where you can and can’t go and who you can and can’t trust. You have to make sure you have the respect of your soldiers. Once I started gaining rank and being in charge of platoons and stuff, I had to learn not to convince them to be friendly to me because of who I was, but to convince them to be friendly to me because I was their MCO at the time, or I was their staff sergeant at the time.

It’s really about gaining the respect of your troops once you get to the leadership level. And if you do that, you can’t do anything to break that respect. They might not like it, they might not understand it, but they’ll respect you. And that’s what I always taught every person I came into contact with in the military. You don’t understand something, you don’t have to accept it, but you have to respect it.

Do you think ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and allowing transgender people to serve openly changed the way they’re treated in the military day-to-day?

I think when you’re on the ground day-to-day you treat each other with respect purely because your lives are in each other’s hands. So they don’t let anything come in the middle of that if their lives are depending on each other.

If you were still in the military, would you be open about your transgender identity?

Absolutely. When they repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell I tried to reenlist, but I was already too old and because of my previous discharge it would’ve made things harder. I definitely would’ve reenlisted. Even now today, if someone called me and said, “We need you to get your boots and camis back on and head overseas,” I would be like, “When do I leave?”

What was your reaction when you heard that Trump was banning transgender people from serving in the military?

I thought it was extremely disrespectful and a big slap in the face to all the transgender troops who do have their feet on the ground right now, especially those overseas that are protecting his life by getting shot at and spilling their blood for him to be discriminatory against them. I think that’s such an irony that people don’t realize, that our lives are being shed right now to protect him to discriminate against us.

How does it feel to work at the Center helping other people transition and making sure they have the support that they need?

I love it. It amazes me everyday when somebody’s face lights up when they realize they can get their name changed to match their gender identity. The youngest client I’ve helped transition is 4 years old. To see them be authentically who they are and be happy for the first time and not upset and sad because someone keeps telling them they’re not who they are is one of the best feelings in the world.

Do you know any active-duty service members who are transgender?

I do. Actually at Nellis Air Force Base there’s an airman who was the first one to transition at Nellis Air Force Base and allowed to serve as a transgender soldier. She’s a client of mine. I’ve been here a year and a half now, almost since she started this process, and she just persevered and said, “You’re going to let me be authentically who I am.” It took her close to two years—back and forth trips to San Antonio and doctors appointments and stuff for her to be who she is. That’s quite a feat that she did it.

How has she been treated at Nellis?

She said that some people give her a hard time and try to nitpick on her about protocol and standards, but she’s a pretty strong girl, so you really can’t do too much to mess with her. You have to be to be active duty and stand for who you are. She’s quite amazing. I’m really proud to have her as a member of the trans community.

What’s your response to people who say that having transgender soldiers is disruptive and distracts from the mission?

Having guys in the unit talking about sex with girls and getting drunk, that’s disruptive. People that have PTSD or other issues, that’s disruptive. So there’s nothing disruptive about us. We’re on the ground right now, we have been for hundreds of years. There was a trans soldier in the Civil War. He never bothered anyone. In fact, he was so honored and revered by his platoon that they made sure he was buried with his male name on his tombstone. We’ve been around, we’ve been here, and there’s been no negative outcome, nothing bad happening, so all of a sudden why is this a problem?