VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Three years after coming out to his family as a transgender man, 26-year-old Landon Shimek, formerly Kristen, has made the most of life as his true self.
He sings solos in the local gay men’s chorus, carries a newly issued Washington state driver’s license with the gender marked “M” and has built a career as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve.
At this point, the Vancouver resident knows his unit could be deployed at any moment.
“I just spend every day with my buddies and pals and surround myself with love and support as much as possible because you don't know when your time is up,” he said.
It’s a "come what may" attitude Sergeant Shimek has come to terms with over the years, he said.
Wednesday morning, it’s one he could, suddenly, also apply to the longevity of his career.
He woke up to a phone, flooded with texts and calls.
“Several of my buddies reached out to me,” he said. "‘How you doing? Are you ok?’”
It only took a few minutes for him to find the tweets.
“It was kind of a slap in the face. I was kind of shocked. I wasn't expecting that,” he said.
In a series of tweets, launched around 3 a.m. Wednesday, President Trump wrote “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you”
The tweets came without any immediate executive action or elaboration.
LGBTQ advocacy groups in Portland spent much of their day Wednesday fielding phone calls, emails and questions.
“People are asking what President Trump’s comments are going to mean for them as either transgender individuals who are serving in the military or would like to serve in the military,” said Chase Doremus, transgender justice trainer and organizer for Basic Rights Oregon.
Doremus added, like the rest of the country, staff were forced to make the most of the little information available in the tweets, while reminding concerned servicemen and women of the history surrounding LGBTQ issues in the U.S. armed forces.
“We know that one of the core values of the U.S. military is integrity, and we saw with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ that when we allow people to serve with integrity, it strengthens our military,” he said.
It’s a benchmark harkened back to by those outside the gay community as well.
Retired Brigadier General Tim O’Brien, a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, compared the non-fallout from the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to that of the widely feared Y2K phenomenon.
“Nobody cared,” he said. “I got the occasional question from back east, which was ‘Hey… Are you going to need more money to do changes to bathrooms and such?’ And my answer was ‘No. Absolutely not.’”
And to people like Sergeant Shimek, who fear their careers are about to be over, he had a message.
“Those are my brothers and sisters. Gender identity never came into the mix,” he said. “What I care about is that you're going to be there for me when I'm in harm's way, just like I'm going to be there for you when you're in harm's way.”
Sergeant Shimek is featured in a new documentary, produced in Oregon, and featuring the stories of LGBTQ service men & women.
It's called 'Break the Silence' and it’s tentatively due out Fall of 2017.