Joan of Arc & Transgender Military Service

By Charles Hoy-Ellis, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Utah College of Social Work


Transgender people have served honorably and bravely in militaries for as long as there have been militaries.

Consider Joan of Arc. We know nothing about her gender identity or sexual orientation, however the historical record overwhelmingly shows she wore armor as clothing and took a prominent public service role reserved exclusively for men, leading the French armies to victory against the English in 1429. This dress and role could easily be read as gender-non-conforming. In fact, her conviction and subsequent burning alive at the stake were based on heresy, in part because she had dared wear men’s clothes and act in a man’s role to save her nation. Yet, it would be difficult to argue that Joan of Arc’s decision to wear armor and cut her hair short made her any less effective as a soldier or a leader. 

It has been said that history repeats itself. A more accurate observation states that “history does not repeat itself; people repeat history.” And so, many are clueless when it comes to history.

Last year, on June 30, 2016, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the repeal of the ban on transgender Americans serving openly in the military. This long-overdue measure followed the Pentagon’s repeal of the notorious “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DODT) policy in 2011, which allowed lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) Americans to serve in the military on the explicit condition that they kept their sexual orientation a secret.

Although it is challenging to come up with unimpeachable estimates, it is believed that there are some 134,000 transgender veterans and retirees from the Guard and Reserves, (Gates & Herman, 2014). In a large community-based research project studying LGBT adults aged 50 and older, 41% of transgender older participants indicated that they have served in the military (Hoy-Ellis et al., 2017). Eighteen other nations—including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia—have, for years, allowed transgender citizens to serve openly and proudly in their militaries. The reality is that through joint military exercises, the U.S. military has already worked alongside openly transgender soldiers… and civilization as we know it has not collapsed!

Research shows that military exclusion of transgender service members has significant physical, mental, and social health outcomes. For some transgender Americans, having served in the military appears to be associated with lower levels of depression and higher mental health related quality of life (MHQOL) in later life (Hoy-Ellis et al., 2017).

While most, if not all marginalized groups experience minority stressors due to their minority group status, Meyer (2003) specified a Minority Stress Model that was an initial conceptualization of the causes and consequences of dealing with LGBT-specific minority stressors on top of general stressors that most people experience. Minority stressors include actual experiences of discrimination and victimization and fear of being rejected by important others (such as friends or family members), should one’s LGBT identity become known. Also included are internalized identity stigma (the internalization of stereotypical, negative attitudes, values, or beliefs regarding marginalized social groups), and hiding who one is to make oneself a less visible target for discrimination and victimization. While hiding one’s LGBT identity might be helpful in the short term, over the long-term this becomes yet another chronic stressor that has significant negative physical, mental, and social health outcomes. Fredriksen-Goldsen and colleagues (Fredriksen-Goldsen et al., 2014) built upon minority stress concepts and incorporated a resilience framework that also attends to the life course perspective to give a fuller, more robust conceptualization of the multicontextual, multilevel dynamics of everyday LGBT lives.

The detrimental impact of prohibiting transgender Americans from serving in the military is not limited to the individual. 

Best estimates suggest that there are approximately 15,000 currently serving transgender military service members (Gates & Herman, 2014). There is abundant evidence that transgender (and LGB) Americans have served honorably in the U.S. military for decades upon decades (Canaday, 2009). Far from destroying morale, LGBT service members have contributed every bit as much as their heterosexual counterparts. One of the cornerstones of unit cohesiveness is trust; trust relies on openness and honesty. Allowing transgender Americans to serve openly would significantly reduce the impact of minority stress. Stating categorically that our transgender citizens cannot honorably serve in any capacity will severely and negatively impact the mental and physical health of transgender military service members and ultimately diminish the effectiveness of our military. 


Canaday, M. (2009). The straight state: Sexuality and citizenship in twentieth-century America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Fredriksen-Goldsen, K. I., Simoni, J. M., Kim, H.-J., Lehavot, K., Walters, K. L., Yang, J., . . . Muraco, A. (2014). The health equity promotion model: Reconceptualization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) health disparities. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(6), 653–683. doi:10.1037/ort0000030

Gates, G. J., & Herman, J. (2014). Transgender Military Service in the United States. Los Angeles: The Williams Institute: UCLA School of Law.

Hoy-Ellis, C. P., Shiu, C., Sullivan, K. M., Kim, H. J., Sturges, A. M., & Fredriksen-Goldsen, K. I. (2017). Prior military service, identity stigma, and mental health among transgender older adults. The Gerontologist, 57(suppl 1), S63-S71. doi:10.1093/geront/gnw173

Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129(5), 674 – 697. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.5.674


The views and opinions expressed on the interACTION blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Utah or the College of Social Work.

OutRight Action International: Accepting Applications for 3 positions

A call for applicants for positions at OutRight Action International.


Director of Programs

Development Officer – Institutional Giving

UN Program Coordinator



Grace Poore

Regional Program Coordinator for Asia and Pacific Islands


OutRight Action International

Human Rights for LGBTIQ People Everywhere

80 Maiden Lane, Suite 1505

New York, NY  10038 USA



voice : +1.212.430.6056

fax : +1.212.430.6060

twitter : @OutRightIntl

Youth Advocate


This is a PAID position

At Volunteers of America, Utah’s new Youth Resource Center (880 So. 400 W.), interact with youth to create a safe, nurturing environment that will offer stability, encourage self- sufficiency, and independence. Rewarding work at an agency where we are committed to making a difference in the lives we touch.

  • Interact with youth and provide them with information on community resources.
  • Distribute basic need items and maintain an accurate record of services delivered.
  • Resolve conflicts and crisis manage as necessary.
  • Enforce the center guidelines for conduct.
  • Complete rounds consistently to ensure clients are in appropriate areas
  • Complete required paperwork in a timely manner.
  • Light cleaning and meal preparation.

Full-time, M – F — Swing (4:00 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.) or Grave (midnight – 8:30 a.m.) shifts
Part – time, SA & SU – Day (8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.), Swing (4:00p.m. – 12:30 a.m.), or Grave (midnight – 8:30 a.m.) shifts


  • Paid or volunteer experience interacting with adolescents.
  • A degree in the social service field preferred or an equivalent combination of education and experience.
  • Ability to interact with homeless clients, regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.
  • Basic knowledge of professional boundaries and confidentiality.
  • High level of interpersonal communication skills.
  • Perseverance and care when clients exhibit behaviors that contribute to continued homelessness.
  • Ability to assist with moving cots, dividers, chairs, and tables within the shelter.
  • Driver’s license with clean driving record required (No more than 3 moving violations in the last 3 years and no DUI in the last 5 years).
  • Must be able to pass a drug test and a criminal background check.

Full-time benefits include: medical, dental, and life insurance; paid holidays, vacation and sick days; retirement plan.

$11.50 per hour, $1.00 per hour shift differential for graves.

Submit resume on the career page of our website:

EOE / Veterans / Disabled

Utah’s Invisible Population

By Charles Hoy-Ellis, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Utah College of Social Work


Lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) adults aged 50 and older are at significantly greater risk for poor mental and physical health outcomes compared to same-age older heterosexual adults; not because they are LGBT, but as a result of the direct and indirect effects of discrimination, victimization, and marginalization they experience because of who they are.  They are also more likely to live alone and be socially isolated.

About 2 percent of American adults aged 50 and older self-identify as LGBT. Doesn’t sound like much, right?  Consider this: according to the latest U.S. Census Population estimates, more than 640,000 of Utah’s nearly 3 million residents are aged 50 and older.  This suggests there are nearly 13,000 self-identified LGBT Utahns aged 50 and older today.  And, this may be an underestimate, as LGBT older adults are more likely than their younger counterparts to conceal their identity.  Moreover, Salt Lake City has the seventh highest percentage of LGBT residents of any major metropolitan area in the U.S. overall.

In addition to being invisible in the larger community, LGBT older adults are often marginalized within LGBT communities because of their age, which is a loss for both younger and older generations.  Younger LGBT people may not be connected to the unique history of LGBT communities in America.  Into the 1970s, police raids on places where LGBT people congregated were common.  Patrons were arrested on “morals charges” that ranged from women wearing men’s attire (slacks, sports jacket), to two people of the same gender dancing together.  The names and photographs of those arrested were often published in local newspapers, which all too often led to being fired from jobs and rejected by family and friends.  During this same era, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) categorized LGBT people as having “sociopathic personality disturbances.”  People could be and were involuntarily institutionalized and forced to undergo treatments to “cure” them, including electroshock therapy, lobotomy, and castration.  As a result of ageism both within and outside of LGBT communities, our LGBT elders do not typically have the opportunity to share their lived history with the next generation.

LGBT older adults are less likely to have children than heterosexual older adults.  Unlike the general population – wherein the typical informal caregiver is a middle-aged women caring for both a younger and older family member related by blood or legal ties – LGBT older adults tend to provide and receive informal care to and from each other.  While this is clearly an aspect of the resiliency of LGBT older adults and communities, it can also be problematic.  These informal caregivers may not be able to make legal decisions, and may themselves need informal caregiving supports.  Because of historical and continued, ongoing discrimination, LGBT older adults are less likely to access community supports, such as senior centers and in-home caregiving services.  Most believe that in order to access these programs and services, they would need to conceal their identity to protect themselves from discrimination, abuse, and harassment from both staff and other clients.  This puts LGBT older adults between the proverbial rock and hard place; concealing one’s sexual orientation has been linked to higher rates of depression and chronic physical conditions.  Disclosing their identity does make them a target for discrimination, harassment, and abuse.  Because of Utah state law, such treatment remains legal.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard staff and other personnel in mainstream aging services and programs say something to the effect of, “we don’t discriminate – we treat everyone equally.”  While well-meaning and no doubt laudable in intent, this belies reality.

Despite long histories of being invisible, LGBT older adults do exist, and are incredibly resilient.  I’d like to share some words from a 70-year old gay man who was quoted in The Aging and Health Report: Disparities and Resilience among LGBT Older Adults (2011):

“In spite of some of the hassles I have had in my life because I am gay, I consider being gay a gift.  It has made my life richer and opened so much of the world for me.  Of course if I had it to do over again, there are some things I would have done differently, but being gay isn’t one of them.”


SAGE Utah and the University of Utah College of Social Work are pleased to present a free screening of the documentary Gen Silent, which poignantly portrays the actual experiences of six LGBT older adults in health and aging service systems.  The screening will be in the Salt Lake City Public Library’s Nancy Tessman Auditorium (210 East 400 South) on Thursday, April 7, 2016, beginning at 6:30 pm, and will be followed by a conversation on LGBTQ aging.  This event is free and open to the public, however pre-registration is requested:


Fresh snow and blue skies provide the perfect backdrop for the glitterati, the independent, and the inspiring who are visiting Park City and Salt Lake City for the Sundance Film Festival. Over the last 31 years, the annual festival has served as a venue for thousands of unknown voices to share unique, creative, and powerful untold stories.

Many of our faculty and staff at the University of Utah College of Social Work take advantage of having this internationally-acclaimed annual event in their back yards. After an evening at the theater, they often return to the College with a list of must-see films for social workers. We’re pleased to share a few of their 2016 recommendations (in no particular order).

Christine - 2016 editedChristine

Recommendation: “Christine is the story of Christine Chubbuck, a television news reporter in Florida who committed suicide on live television in 1974. We get a more rounded view of her personality, and why her co-workers described her as difficult but brilliant, warm, and funny. While her depression and rapid cycling from mania to despair become increasingly evident, it was not sufficiently evident for anyone to correctly diagnose her bipolar disorder in order to save her. This would be an excellent case study in BPD, but also is a wonderful argument for physician training and mental health policies in general.” – Dr. Joanne Yaffe, Professor

About this film: “In 1974, a female TV news reporter aims for high standards in life and love in Sarasota, Florida. Missing her mark is not an option. This story is based on true events.” (Director: Antonio Campos)

Sophie and the Rising Sun

Recommendation: “If I see only 10 films at #Sundance2016 please let them be this good. Amazing film!” – Dr. Joanne Yaffe, Professor

About this film: “In a small Southern town in the autumn of 1941, Sophie’s lonely life is transformed when an Asian man arrives under mysterious circumstances. Their love affair becomes the lightning rod for long-buried conflicts that erupt in bigotry and violence with the outbreak of World War ll.” (Director/Screenwriter: Maggie Greenwald)

Captain Fantastic

Recommendation: “Really, everybody should see ‘Captain Fantastic….’ You’ve got mental health issues (bipolar, suicide), child welfare issues (style vs safety), loss and grief (mom’s death and burial, saying good bye), and lessons about family love and forgiveness. It was fabulous.” – Lisa Himonas, Assistant Dean for Development

About this film: “Deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and re-enter society, beginning a journey that challenges his idea of what it means to be a parent.” (Director/Screenwriter: Matt Ross)

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Recommendation: “Wonderful exploration of a disrupted foster placement in NZ.” – Dr. Joanne Yaffe, Professor

About this film: “Ricky is a defiant young city kid who finds himself on the run with his cantankerous foster uncle in the wild New Zealand bush. A national manhunt ensues, and the two are forced to put aside their differences and work together to survive in this heartwarming adventure comedy.” (Director/Screenwriter: Taika Waititi)

Resilience - 2016 editedResilience

Recommendation: “Solidly grounded in science, the film brings to light how adverse childhood experiences (ACE) affect the health and behavior of children, as well as adults. It provides great examples of helping children overcome experiences that are often misdiagnosed, such as a misdiagnosis of toxic stress as ADD. How do we train children to recognize the stress in their lives? How do we make the connection between childhood traumas and the body’s manifestation of that stress? This film examines the connections between health and mental health through an interdisciplinary lens and acknowledges a major public health issues – an epidemic – that our society doesn’t want to talk about.” – Dr. Dena Ned, Associate Professor/Lecturer

About this film: “This film chronicles the birth of a new movement among pediatricians, therapists, educators, and communities using cutting-edge brain science to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction, and disease. These professionals help break the cycles of adversity by daring to talk about the effects of divorce, abuse, and neglect.” (Director: James Redford)


Recommendation: “This documentary is an important contribution to educating viewers on current issues young girls and women face in other cultures. The film addresses traditional family views on forced marriage in Afghanistan and Iran, lack of education for women, women’s rights, human rights in general, immigration, and refugee life in the United States. What makes Sonita’s story unique is her courage and determination in creating a rap video that earned her a scholarship opportunity in the United States. After leaving Iran secretly initially without her parents’ knowledge, she is not only pursuing a better life and education for herself, but also hopes to help other young women in similar situations in her home country.” – Inka Johnson, MSW Program Administrative Assistant

About this film: “If 18-year-old Sonita had a say, Michael Jackson and Rihanna would be her parents and she’d be a rapper who tells the story of Afghan women and their fate as child brides. She finds out that her family plans to sell her to an unknown husband for $9,000.” (Director/Screenwriter: Rokhsareh Ghaem Maghami)

Other People

Recommendation: “Mom is dying of cancer, so her gay son comes home to help, but his father is not accepting of his sexual orientation. It’s a story of loss and grief, as well as LGBTQ/family acceptance.” – Lisa Himonas, Assistant Dean for Development

About this film: “A struggling comedy writer, fresh from breaking up with his boyfriend, moves to Sacramento to help his sick mother. Living with his conservative father and younger sisters, David feels like a stranger in his childhood home. As his mother worsens, he tries to convince everyone (including himself) he’s ‘doing okay.’” (Director/Screenwriter: Chris Kelly)

Eagle Huntress - 2016The Eagle Huntress

Recommendation: “The Eagle Huntress is a tour de force. See it!” – Dr. Joanne Yaffe, Professor

About this film: “Step aside, Daenerys and Katniss—Aisholpan is a real-life role model on an epic journey in a faraway world. Follow this 13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl as she battles to become the first female to hunt with a golden eagle in 2,000 years of male-dominated history.” (Director: Otto Bell)

Hooligan Sparrow

Recommendation: “This film is a great portrayal of some of the difficult and amazing work being done by some advocates for social justice in China. If you love social justice, you’ll love this film.” – Miguel Trujillo, Youth Empowerment Program Project Coordinator

About this film:   “Traversing southern China, a group of activists led by Ye Haiyan, a.k.a. Hooligan Sparrow, protest a scandalous incident in which a school principal and a government official allegedly raped six students. Sparrow becomes an enemy of the state, but detentions, interrogations, and evictions can’t stop her protest from going viral.” (Director/Screenwriter: Nanfu Wang)


Hearts, Humility, and Healing

LDS & LGBTBy Karl Jennings and Megan Whitlock, MSW Students


Almost two weeks ago, [in response to a new policy adopted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints], many of us woke to the Instagram picture at right.  At least two of us (Megan Whitlock and Karl Jennings) went to class not really sure of all the emotions we felt.  Regardless of our LDS/LGBT positionality, from the looks on the faces of our friends, we were certain that people were hurting.  Despite the potential for deep disagreements, the following occurred:

Megan Whitlock: In diversity class later that day, the teacher welcomed us to process the LDS Church’s policy regarding same-sex families. I felt the sorrow I had not yet registered and tears began to stream.  All day I had seen the faces of many of my friends who I feared had yet another jab to deal with from the Church.  Unable to withhold my thoughts any longer, I raised my hand.  All I could say through my tears was that I didn’t know what my future would be or how to do what I felt was right, but I felt that my place in the Church was to stay – with the intent of creating spaces.  I felt and feel like I need to be in the Church to be an influence wherever I can be an influence in order to keep conversations happening.  And what happened next has become sacred to me.  A member of the class, a gay man – a dear friend – offered ME support.

Karl Jennings: I think I said that I can understand and respect that.  I don’t think it’s my place to require anyone to leave or to stay.  I am not in a place where I can work within the Church and it would be hypocritical of me to try, but I support whatever you decide because I know your heart.  

Megan:  We both shared tears in that exchange, but we also shared a space that we have since struggled to name.  We wanted to understand how we were able to feel this connection that seemed unlikely, given our respective positionalities: Megan, an active, straight member of the LDS Church; and Karl, a gay, agnostic, former member.  As a result of further dialogue, this is what we believe enabled us to enter a transformative space:

  • “I know your heart.”
  • “We cannot live peacefully without humility.”

Karl:  To me, it was knowing you, Megan – as a person of great worth and hearing you speak often with genuine empathy and caring – that I knew whatever place you landed, it would be a place I could respect.  In the face of that, it was more important for me to reach out to you than to be “right.”  I think that’s where humility comes in.  

Megan: And for me, in that moment you, Karl, spoke your truth without denying me mine.  I also know your heart.  I have known you to love, own, and seek your path while always recognizing that others have paths of their own.  It takes humility to live that way, and it gave me the strength and courage to live that way too.

We believe our friendship laid the groundwork that turned a potential divide into a strengthening experience.  We could trust each other’s intentions because we took the time to know each other.  Because we had already developed something valuable between us, it was mutually more important to reach out than to go on the defensive – to suspend the need for a “right” answer.  We know this doesn’t solve the issue.  Neither of us is sure we even can.

The community is hurt, but it has the power within itself to heal. Our role as social workers is to nurture that power, teach it, and live it.


MSW students Megan Whitlock and Karl Jennings