Stories of Transitioning Journeys

Karen Holmes served for five years as a model soldier with a little known military agency called the Maryland Defense Force. (Photo by Elizabeth Anne Taylor) Since transitioning as a transgender woman in 2016, Silver Spring, Md., resident Karen Holmes served for five years as a model soldier with a little known military agency called the Maryland Defense Force. As a staff sergeant, Holmes took part in the Maryland Defense Force's stated mission of "providing competent and supplemental professional, technical, and military support to the Maryland Army National Guard, the Maryland Air National Guard, and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency." Similar to members of the National Guard, Holmes and her fellow soldiers with the Maryland Defense Force carried out their duties mostly on weekends while holding a full-time civilian job. But unlike the National Guard, members of the Maryland Defense Force, which is known as the MDDF, serve as volunteers and receive no monetary compensation unless the state governor, who serves as commander, activates their units at times of a state or national emergency. Holmes has worked full-time during the past 16 years as a safety officer for a federal government agency in Washington. She was honorably discharged from the MDDF in December 2016. She told the Washington Blade in an interview on Tuesday that she hopes her record as a decorated soldier with the MDDF while out as transgender to many of her fellow soldiers and commanding officers would serve as a strong refutation to the Trump administration's pending plan to ban transgender people from serving in the military. In December of 2012, just one year after enlisting in the MDDF, Holmes was named Non-Commissioned Officer Soldier of the Year by the MDDF and the Maryland State Guard Association. In October 2013 she was named Soldier of the Year by the State Guard Association of the United States for an honor in which 23,000 soldiers in 24 states competed. "They knew I was transgender," Holmes said. "They talked to the National Guard people because we felt kind of a little different. They were OK with me being in the Maryland Defense Force." With all that as a backdrop, Holmes said she was "shocked" when she heard on the news last month that President Trump announced in a posting on Twitter that he had directed the U.S. military to reinstate the ban on transgender people from serving in the military. "I was really shocked and hurt because of the fact that we're doing great things out there," she said. "When I was with the Maryland Defense Force we were supplementing what the National Guard did. I did everything from parades for the Color Guard Detail. I was a chaplain's assistant." And, according to Holmes, other trans soldiers were involved with operations such as engineering and medical duties. Like other advocates for allowing transgender people to serve in the military, Holmes said it's widely known that transgender people currently serving in main branches of the U.S. military are performing well. "And the big thing the president was talking about was the cost as far as medical services," she said. "That's been a big issue," she noted, adding that she feels it's unfair to equate medical costs such as surgery with the desire of trans people to serve in the military. "To me I think it's pretty rough to say we're going to join just to get the surgery," Holmes said. "That's not why they join. They join because they want to serve the country and they believe in peoples' rights." Although Holmes said her co-workers and supervisors at the federal agency where she works were "great" when she transitioned in 2010, she remains reluctant to disclose the name of the agency, in part, because she doesn't want to be portrayed as officially representing the agency on transgender related matters. "And I just don't want to say much about it because who knows what Trump is going to do," she said. The president has said he has no plans to rescind President Obama's executive order banning discrimination in the federal civilian workforce based on gender identity and expression or to repeal previously adopted government policies banning sexual orientation discrimination against federal employees. But some LGBT rights advocates say they fear Trump might change his mind on those protections just as he did in seeking to rescind the Obama protections for transgender people the military.
Transgender people can accomplish great and admirable things as out and proud individuals. They should be role models not only for queer youth, but for anyone. Despite great personal hardship, many transgender people have done great things with their professional careers. Karen Kendra Holmes has worked for the Corporation for National & Community Service for 15 years as the agency's Safety Officer for the past six years. She serves as a Staff Sergeant with the Maryland Defense Force as a Chaplain's Assistant and Honor Guard. In 2012, Holmes was awarded NCO Soldier of the Year by the Maryland Defense Force. She was also named Soldier of the Year by the State Guard Association of the United States in 2013. In 2015, Holmes was honored in The Platform Magazine as one of 41 women around the world who inspire and make a difference in their community.
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