Try telling Map Pesqueira that the transgender troop ban is not a ban.
The University of Texas at Austin freshman revealed this week that he had lost his military scholarship because he is a transgender man, as The Daily Texan first reported. His is the first known case of a person losing such a scholarship due to the Trump administration’s policy on transgender service, which went into effect on April 12.
“It’s awful,” Pesqueira told The Daily Beast. “I’m so hurt by it.”
Now, instead of looking forward to an all-but-guaranteed military career, Pesqueira has had to turn to crowdfunding, raising money through GoFundMe to stay at UT Austin now that his scholarship money is gone. As of this writing, the 19-year-old has raised $17,000 from over 400 donors to keep paying out of pocket for school.
If he can’t get tuition money together, he will have to reassess his options.
“I had a career and a job lined up after college and I would be taken care of—and now that’s not happening anymore,” he told The Daily Beast. “Right now, I’m looking at having to go back home to San Antonio and go to community college until I’m able to figure out what my next step is.”
Pesqueira is 19 years old. He started transitioning last February, legally changing his name and gender marker in May. Last year, the transgender troop ban was still blocked by a handful of federal injunctions, so Pesqueira’s path to service was clear.
When the Supreme Court decided in January 2019 to allow the Department of Defense to implement the Trump administration’s ban, Pesqueira says he didn’t get any updates about the status of his scholarship.
He started sending “multiple emails,” he told The Daily Beast, “asking for an update.”
Then, on March 19 this year, he underwent top surgery to masculinize his chest.
Finally, on March 24, he emailed his adviser at the Department of Defense—and got a response. But he couldn’t bear to read it right away.
“I didn’t really take a look at that email until around the beginning of April,” he recalled, “Because I had just had surgery and I wasn’t really in a clear mind to comprehend everything—and when I did read the email, I learned that I would be disqualified.”
The Trump administration’s policy on transgender military service bars people who have undergone transition-related medical care from enlisting, and only allows a tiny subset of transgender people to serve in the military without suppressing their identity, namely those who received a gender dysphoria diagnosis before April 12.
Someone like Pesqueira, who had not only been diagnosed with gender dysphoria but been treated for it, will have no way to enlist under the ban.
On April 8, as the freshman told The Daily Beast, he received final confirmation from his adviser that he would be disqualified: “He said, ‘It’s been an honor and privilege working with you,’ and that was that,” Pesqueira said.
Just like that, his goal was out of reach.
Organizations that serve LGBT service members hope that Pesqueira’s story can draw attention to the human toll of the transgender troop ban.
“The trans ban is already costing careers,” SPART*A president Lieutenant Commander Blake Dremann told The Daily Beast in a statement. “Map Pesqueira is the first, but sadly won’t be the last. Map is qualified, capable, and willing to serve. The only reason he can’t is a discriminatory policy that costs this nation our future heroes.”
Andy Blevins, executive director at OutServe-SLDN, which sued the Trump administration over the ban, told The Daily Beast in a statement that Map’s “selection for a coveted ROTC scholarship” only underscores his qualifications to serve.
“Map lost his scholarship and future career—and this country lost his leadership and dedication to the mission—because of a discriminatory and unwarranted ban that was founded in mistruths and ignorant biases,” he added. “We can, and we must, do better.”
Pesqueira wanted to serve so badly that he initially wished he had suppressed his gender identity to do so. (“Why did I start transitioning?” he asked himself, as he told The Daily Beast. “I should have thought about it and put my transition on hold to make sure that I would be able to go into the military and serve my country.”)
The transgender troop ban tacitly encourages this sort of thinking, by making gender dysphoria a disqualifying condition “unless applicants have lived in birth gender for three years immediately prior,” as the Palm Center think tank notes in its breakdown of the policy.
In other words, if Pesqueira knew the details of the policy in advance of seeking medical treatment, he might have delayed his transition—which can have extremely deleterious effects on mental health—in order to start his career.
Those conflicted feelings came to a climax after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the transgender troop ban could go into effect.
“I started thinking that this is my fault,” he told The Daily Beast. “This is my fault that I’m like this. I don’t want to be like this. If I were just cisgender, I wouldn’t have to deal with this—and why couldn’t I have been born like that? Why did I have to be born trans?”
He hit rock bottom shortly thereafter. “It really got to me and it was hard to find something to cling onto that kept me positive,” he said.
Only with the help of loved ones has he been able to return to a place of love and self-acceptance. They have reassured him that being transgender is not a choice, that he is who he is, and that he can’t suppress his identity to please the ill-informed.
“The positivity really came from the support of my friends and my family and the people who are sending me encouraging messages,” Pesqueira said. “So that’s where my strength and positivity and light is coming from in all of this.”
The college freshman still plans to pursue a military career if and when the ban gets reversed. But because he hopes to become an officer, there are timing issues to consider. Many service members become officers by commissioning through their undergraduate degree, so if Pesqueira can’t do that, he will have to go to graduate school and commission that way instead—presuming the policy has been lifted by then.
“I’ll be an older lieutenant, an older officer, but it will still be what I dreamed of doing, I’ll just be a little bit older,” he said.
Even then, he’s trying to shield himself from the possibility that the ban could remain in effect for longer than he can afford to wait. “I would just have to accept it and figure out something else [if that happened], which is what I’m trying to do right now.”
A Department of Defense spokesperson told The Daily Beast: “The student’s gender identity did not impact his status in the ROTC program. The scholarship offer was contingent upon meeting the standards required of all prospective recruits; the student did not meet these standards.”
As a point of clarification, The Daily Beast asked the DoD whether Pesqueira having received transition-related medical care is what impacted his ROTC status.
The DoD spokesperson said: “The offer was contingent upon meeting service entry standards. There are a wide range of medical conditions that make prospective recruits unfit for military service. It would be improper to discuss the medical history of a particular candidate.”
Pesqueira has been blown away by the support he has received on GoFundMe. He was anticipating “a couple of donations from my family and friends” but now, it has been spread nationally. He calls the donations “very, very humbling.”
He knows that there are others in a similar position who have yet to come forward—“I’m not the only one going through this,” he told The Daily Beast—and he wants to shine a light on their situation.
“I am doing this to bring justice,” he said. “It’s what needs to be done. It’s the right thing to do.”