A Q&A with Alleria Stanley, South Carolina-born veteran and advocate for trans service members

Alleria Stanley, SPARTA Advocacy Director

It’s the first week of legislative action in 2024, and South Carolina lawmakers are already debating a bill (H. 4624) that would ban medically necessary care for transgender people under age 18. 

This ideologically motivated attack goes against the recommendations of medical professionals and would harm South Carolina children if signed into law. It is also a threat to military families with transgender children who get assigned to one of our state’s military installations. 

Thanks to the patchwork of discriminatory laws against LGBTQ children and adults, this is increasingly becoming a problem for service members and their families. As The Nation reported last year, anti-trans legislation is becoming a national security issue. 

Today on the blog we have a short interview with Alleria Stanley, a South Carolina-born combat veteran who retired after 20 years of service in the U.S. military. Alleria is also a transgender woman and a mother of five, and she serves as advocacy director for SPARTA, a transgender military advocacy organization. 

PAUL: What’s your South Carolina connection? 

ALLERIA: Funny enough, I was born and raised in Bamberg, S.C., and if that town sounds familiar, it’s because Nikki [Haley] is from there. Nikki used to come to my birthday parties. 

No way! Small state. 

We’re not in touch right now. But I remember growing up with her family, shopping at her mom’s store, I remember Ajit, Simi, all of them, the whole family. Nikki and I are similar age, we went to the same school together. She’d probably be very surprised at how I look now. 

In your current position, you keep an eye on the status of trans folks and trans children across the country. How has the wave of anti-transgender legislation across the U.S. affected military families, especially military families with trans kids? 

It is extremely heartbreaking and tragic and underreported and virtually unknown. In this country, we laud and place high on pillars our service members … and yet we’re willing to really hurt some of those families.  

We expect family separations if you are deployed to a combat zone. We expect family separations to go serve a tour in Korea, Bahrain, Qatar, Africa, et cetera. That’s expected. What’s not expected is when a family comes down on orders to a state that is hostile to members of that family, where serious negative effects can happen if they go in that state … 

So what happens is families are given a choice: You can choose to leave the service if you can, you can refuse the assignment and immediately leave the service and kill your career no matter how many years you’ve invested in it and no matter how much you enjoy and proudly serve. You can choose to split up – and we have many families who have chosen to split up and are living apart, not because their service member is overseas but because their service member is in Florida, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, in these states. And predominantly the military is in a lot of the states that are passing these laws. 

If a family gets assigned to a state where the law forbids them to obtain medical treatment, what can they do? What options do they really have?  

I would say one of the true benefits that came out of COVID was telehealth. And so sometimes you can find telehealth providers who will be willing to do the lab work, make the prescriptions... 

But many of the providers are afraid. They don’t want to deal with the legal costs, potential legal issues, higher insurance rates, and so we have many providers who are leaving the care industry, which again narrows the pool even further. 

So if you’re assigned to a state that changes its laws, if you’re sent to a state that is hostile to you — we see inquiries come in all the time: “Help, we’re assigned to —” insert state here. “What do we do?” And that’s where the network of peer support comes in handy. People can recommend a doctor that is willing to help or a method, and it’s entirely branch-specific. What you do depends on your branch’s guidelines and their regulations. To further complicate things … there is no one unifying policy, so it’s very much a case of Installation-Service Roulette. 

From your perspective as someone who talks to a lot of military leaders and service members, how do you see discriminatory laws affecting the strength and readiness of the military?  

It erodes us from within … Diversity is our strength, and it gives us more possibilities, and we prove that every day throughout our force. These laws erode that diversity, they restrict those who are willing to serve. Interestingly enough, transgender individuals serve at a rate of approximately twice as many as other demographics and identities. This was even during the ban. Transgender people have been serving in the military from the very beginning in the Revolutionary War, and they’ve been highly decorated doing that. 

Why shoot yourself in the foot? We have recruiting and retention issues right now, and we have high-quality, well-trained individuals who are having excess pressure and stress added to their military careers just because of who they are … It creates that stress to the point where unfortunately we are leading some of our service members to make tragic choices. During the bans we had over 50 individuals who lost their lives to suicide. Just the threats of bans have led people in the last year, 2023, to take their own lives… 

That erodes unit cohesion, efficiency, strength, all of it. It takes away from our core military readiness, and our mission should be focused purely on making sure we defend America to our utmost ability.