Transgender Veterans on the move

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Starting back in December, 2005, it looked as though the new efforts of the Transgender American Veterans Association, a 501(c)3 organization headed by President Monica Helms, were exceeding expectations.

“I am proud to see TAVA move forward in expanding the awareness on transgender veterans issues,” remarks Monica Helms. “With transgender veterans, their friends and spouses getting involved across the country, we will no longer be the ‘Forgotten Veterans’ in our country.”

The organization’s National Chapters Director and Assistant Chapters Director conquered one of the toughest states in the nation, by having its first chapter organizational meeting in Ohio, with the sincere help of the past Director. Now, after six  months, the Ohio Chapter is picking up steam to become incorporated in their state through the efforts of TAVA Treasurer, Jenelle Hestley, and Ohio Chapter Director, Sharon Musgrave.

The Ohio Chapter now has 15 members, which is up from just six back in December of last year.

The Ohio Chapter Director, Sharon Musgrove, says, “I am looking forward to serving TAVA more fully in the near future. I am familiar with past efforts and I hope to add to the successful growth now being experienced by the Ohio chapter. Currently I’m looking forward to our first meeting as members, accomplishing incorporation with the expert guidance of Jenelle and establishing chapter support.”

In February of 2006, the move to operate its first legal, incorporated chapter in the country was overcome when the membership of the Madison, Wisconsin based state chapter was made official. The chapter exists to this day with 12 members, which is an increase of 100% over the last three months. This incorporated chapter exists due to Officers like its Director, Ashley Jasper; Assistant Director, Jolie McKenna; and Membership Officer, Mike Mack. Its membership now includes a gay veteran, John Crowe.

In Tennessee, several efforts have been made to get the chapter up and running by its Director, BEAR Rodgers, in Knoxville, with eight members. A major road block is raising the funds to meet the high cost of incorporation fees in that state. It is at this present time in limbo, but there are hopes that incorporation will happen by the end of 2006.

TAVA National Assistant Chapters director BEAR Rodgers says, “Members can be anyone who supports equal treatment of veterans, and are concerned about LGBT treatment during times of great need or disasters. The problem in growing membership is that many people cannot get beyond the transgender issue. It is amazing how closed people are. But that just shows the need for an organization like TAVA.”

Incorporated chapters that are gaining a lot of momentum include Arkansas and Missouri. The Arkansas Chapter, directed by Janis Walters, has a membership of nine and the Missouri Chapter, directed by Mishell Blomenkamp, has a membership of just three for now. Membership and officers, at this time, are their obstacles.

Other states in the U.S. with preliminary chapters are: Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington. These prospective chapters have a total membership of 35 transgender veterans that are eager to have an operational chapter in their state.

At present, all of the potential state chapters have directors that will add enormous contributions to TAVA on a statewide basis. Yet, without sufficient officers and membership, they are being kept from proceeding in accordance to the start up, pre-organizational standards and bylaws that were set by the TAVA Board of Directors, the National Chapters Director, and the National Assistant Chapters Director.

“As the Outreach Liaison for TAVA and the Texas State Chapter Director,” Paula Dee Wright says, “it is my job to let other veteran and LGBT organizations know what the goals of TAVA are… what we are doing on the national and local level and how we can help each other, not only locally but nationally.”

She adds, “The biggest misconception that I run into is people thinking that just because they are not veterans or not transgender that they are not qualified to be an active member of TAVA. We do not require those interested in joining TAVA to be a veteran or LGBT. We will take anyone who is interested in helping those that have served their country.”

“We realize that without the veterans that have served, past, present and future, and sacrificed for their country and their fellow countrymen, that we would not have the country that is the envy of the world. But, to not have the focus on helping the whole LGBT community with veterans issues and, now statewide disaster relief, would hinder our efforts.”

In the 18 states that are attempting to proceed to the point of being incorporated charter chapters – as well as the one that already is – there are at present only a total of 82 people involved in TAVA. That number includes not just veterans from the gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender communities, but people who care about veterans and people affected by natural disasters. The number of those involved now is almost a 700% increase since December of last year. But more are needed!

The main purpose of having TAVA chapters in every state of the country is to have the ability to better serve and advocate for veterans and to ensure that health care and other services provided to veterans are delivered with the courtesy and respect due those who have served our country – without prejudice on account of their gender identity/expression. These chapters are also working to ensure that health care services related to a diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID) are provided in accordance with the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association’s Standards of Care.

The second purpose of each chapter is to help the general transgender community in times of emergencies or natural disasters. This additional focus is due to what has evolved after hurricane Katrina in Louisiana where many people, including members of the transgender community, are still struggling to get their lives back in order.