19-year-old student shares how Trump's ban on transgender service members changed his life

the voice and vision of a new generation

19-year-old student shares how Trump's ban on transgender service members changed his life

August 7, 2019

Map Pesqueira is a 19-year-old transgender man and student at the University of Texas at Austin whose military scholarship was recently recinded due to the Trump Administration’s ban on transgender service members, which went into effect on April 12th. Map’s story has gone viral as the first known person to lose a military scholarship due to the discriminatory ban, which is even opposed by all five service chiefs of the military. 

From a very young age, Map dreamed of becoming an officer in the Army. His dad frequently took him to the Fort Sam Houston Army Base near their home where Map was captivated by the sense of “belonging to an elite team rooted in pride and unity that protects our country,” as he describes in his crowdfunding campaign.

Just two days after the ban went into effect, Map told NBC News that when he received the dreadful news from Lawrence Mullen, deputy chief of the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board, he felt as if Mullen had “walked me into a room, sat me down, turned off the light, closed the door and left the room... I felt so alone in that moment.” He also shared that “without the scholarship, I will have to move back home and go to community college. There is no guarantee that I will be able to come back to Austin and continue my education here.” 

In our interview, Map opens up about the emotional toll of this experience, the surprising amount of support he has received, and his message to other transgender people who dream of serving our country.

1. What effects has the Trump administration’s policy on transgender service had on you personally? 

I'll be honest, it's taken a toll on my emotional health. After everything happened, I stopped going to ROTC events and gatherings just because it made me so sad to know that I couldn't pursue something I love so dearly right now. However, I know that this policy will be reversed in the future and hopefully then I will still have the passion to pursue the military. 

2. How do your identities inform your role as an ROTC cadet?

My identity as a trans man really didn't affect my role as a cadet as many people would think. There wasn't a physical training test for transgender cadets or any different uniform standard. Sure there were people who knew about my identity, but most of the time it really didn't matter to people. Just as long as I was there to do the same thing as everyone else: to serve our country. 

3. What kind of reactions have you received after your story was covered in the news?

I received a little bit of everything in terms of reactions. I was pretty apprehensive to come out with this story in fear that people wouldn't care, but I was very wrong. Although there were some ignorant comments, the support and love I received outweighed the negativity that was being directed towards me.

4. What kinds of support or words of affirmation have you received since your story was covered in the news?

My family has been my biggest supporters through all of this, but even complete strangers have come forward to comfort and radiate their love! I am very grateful and fortunate for all of the positivity and kindness I've received through all of this.

5. What would you like for people who have heard about your story to know about you? 

The biggest thing that I would like people to know is that I am going to work to make sure that this policy is reversed. This policy prevents the military branches from reaching their recruiting goals by turning away perfectly qualified candidates when there are so few Americans who are willing to answer this call to serve. This is not only heavily affecting me, but it also affects the thousands of other honorable transgender service members as well as those who are aspiring to join the military. This is only the beginning. 

6. You recently appeared on Good Morning America where Caitlyn Jenner awarded you with a $25,000 scholarship. What was that experience like for you?

It was a surreal experience! It's not every day when you're contacted by one of the biggest transgender icons in sports media, so I took it very seriously, but I did fan-boy for a bit. Meeting Caitlyn was a moment I will never forget. Hearing her sound so excited to meet me lit up a smile on my face. She has very good intentions and carries a heart of gold. I am extremely grateful for her gift to help me continue my education. I hope to continue fighting for equality within our armed forces and being an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights!   

7. What is next for you in terms of your education and ROTC ambitions?

My next step is to put ROTC to the side so I can focus on finishing my education and getting my degrees. If the policy is reversed after I graduate from college, I plan to either to go to graduate school and pursue ROTC through there or enlist and go to Officer Candidate School. 

8. What would you like to see in the future for LGBTQ+ folks serving in the U.S. military?

I'd like to see more diversity and inclusivity trainings and classes required for all service members so that everyone will know how to respect each other despite their differences. I'd like to see that the country elects a president who won't mull over important topics like LGBTQ+ rights in the military. The 2020 elections can't come fast enough! 

9. Do you have a message for fellow LGBTQ+ youth that are being discriminated against?

If you are someone who is being discriminated against, I encourage you to reach out to someone who can help. GLAAD is an incredible resource that has helped me figure out my next steps. Lambda Legal is also an incredible legal action team that fights for the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Overall it's important to know that there are people who want to help you and who support and love you unconditionally and that includes me.

In the past 3 months, Map’s crowdfunding campaign has raised more than $28,000. This successful campaign, in addition to the scholarship he received from the Caitlyn Jenner Foundation, will allow Map to continue his education at the University of Texas at Austin. He is eager to join the military as soon as the ban is lifted.

Andrew Hall is a GLAAD Youth Engagement Intern and recent graduate of UCLA where he studied Gender Studies. Andrew recently relocated to NYC to pursue a career in media advocacy.

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