Two former cadets at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) have alleged they were discriminated against for coming out as trans.
Sarah Bowley and Joel Wilson said they were forced to leave ADFA after coming out, despite a policy intended to prevent abuse of trans people, The Canberra Times has reported.
Wilson said he did not know he was trans when he joined ADFA, and never would have joined if he had known he would transition.
“I don’t know what person in their right mind would think, ‘Oh great, I’ll join the Defence Force for a free transition’,” he said.
“It would be much easier to work in a civilian capacity and save money and transition than it ever would socially to try and transition in Defence.”
Wilson said transition was difficult as he became “pretty quickly the subject of the rumour mill” and his medical expenses were not covered.
“There was social isolation and discrimination, particularly medically. All expenses paid—not at all,” he said.
Wilson said he later discovered he had even been investigated for fraud over attempting to have some of his transition expenses paid.
Bowley also did not know she was trans when she joined ADFA.
She said she overcompensated with hypermasculinity at that time.
“I was so masculine I was described as the epitome of aggression,” Bowley said.
“I went so far to prove to everyone and myself that I was masculine.”
Three years after joining ADFA, she told her superior that she had been seeing a psychiatrist and begun gender transition.
“I went on to say I don’t expect it to impact my academics in any way, shape or form, or my role within the division,” she said.
“He turned around and stated, ‘wait there’.”
Bowley said her boss returned with two options: leave without pay, or discharge.
She said within three days she was removed from study and training.
Both cadets were medically downgraded by ADFA despite being physically well.
A Defence spokesperson denied that transitioning cadets were automatically medically downgraded.
“Some Defence members who present with medical conditions may have their deployable status reclassified whilst undergoing treatment,” she said.
“This is a duty of care requirement to ensure members are provided with proper support and the opportunity to recover and return to their previous work or a new role within the ADF.”
Trans people have been permitted to openly serve in the Australian Defence Force since 2010, when a policy of full support for trans people was introduced.
Australian Catholic University associate professor Noah Riseman said Defence struggled to know how to deal with trans people in its ranks after the policy came into effect.
He said Wilson and Bowley’s alleged experiences were not consistent with policy.
“The leadership team within Defence talk the talk, but the experiences of these people are questioning whether they walk the walk,” Riseman said.
He added that the treatment of LGBTI people within ADFA does seem to be improving over time.
“I do believe the culture is changing for the better,” he said.
“It’s not perfect, and no-one is going to pretend it’s perfect, but it’s improving.”