By Monica F. Helms, Angela Brightfeather and Allyson Robinson
Monica Helms: A few months back, the Transgender American Veterans Association’s Organizational Liaison, Paula Dee Wright, received a communication from Dr. Judy Rosenstein, civilian instructor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Dr. Rosenstein teaches Social Inequality, a sociology elective, and she asked to have a transgender veteran come and speak to her class.
You can imagine how we felt being presented with the opportunity to speak at the oldest military academy in the United States. Some of our most famous military figures in this country’s history have walked its halls. Never in its 206-year history has an openly transgender person been invited to speak to the cadets, so the invitation to TAVA was a first.
The discussion between board members on how we should proceed focused primarily on finding the perfect person to take on this historical task. We had many in our community who have also spent time in the halls of West Point, but only a few would be able to represent our part of the community in the way that would not only respect West Point and their long traditions, but respect the transgender community. Angela Brightfeather, TAVA’s VP, had the right person in mind.
We asked Allyson Robinson, who graduated from West Point in 1994, to take on this “mission,” and she proudly accepted. However, we made one big request of her. Allyson currently works for HRC as the Associate Director of Diversity and we asked that in this situation, she represent TAVA when she arrived at West Point, even though she was not part of our board. We made the request only because Dr. Rosenstein made the initial contact to us. Because of how important this visit would be, Allyson and HRC had no problem with that.