by Ilona Westfall
Nicolas Talbott has dreams of being a military intelligence officer.
The Lisbon, Ohio resident is working on his Master’s degree in Criminology with a concentration in global security at Kent State University. He runs several times a week and regularly lifts weights. He feels a deep patriotic pride for his country. He’s exactly the type of person you’d expect the military to be tripping over their feet to enlist.
But they’re not. The military won’t even consider his service.
Talbott is a transgender man, and thanks to President Trump’s 2019 transgender military ban, Talbott’s dream is now in limbo.
“It’s always so hard to describe what it was like the first time I heard about this ban because I was so emotional at the time,” says Talbott. “I was shocked. I was devastated. I was disappointed. I was angry.”
Talbott left the ROTC program he had been attending for a year when the decision to reverse President Obama’s removal of a prior ban was tweeted, but he never lost hope. Instead, Talbott joined a lawsuit led by GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), publicly challenging the ban as discriminatory.
Most of his hometown and college community instantly supported him. A few other initially-hesitant friends reached out to him for education on the topic once they learned he was involved, a process with which he was happy to engage. Complete strangers have reached out to him with positivity and encouragement. But it was the support of his former high school, where he’s currently a substitute teacher, that was particularly meaningful.
“So many of my former teachers who are now colleagues openly voiced their support for me and for what I’m doing,” explains Talbott. “That was a huge moment for me.”
While the lawsuit is in a preliminary information-gathering phase, with early-to-mid 2021 as an expected timeframe for a trial, there’s plenty of encouragement now. A 2019 Gallup poll showed 71% of Americans support transgender people serving in the military. A variety of science-based organizations including the American Medical Association stand against the ban. If Joe Biden wins this year’s presidential election, part of his LGBTQ+ policy is to remove the ban.
For his part, Talbott hasn’t stopped working toward his dream, turning his initial anger and sadness into action.
“It’s very motivating to know what I’ve been doing in the meantime since that initial tweet came out from [President Trump],” he says. “I think about that a lot and I use it as the driving factor to help motivate me in my physical fitness, in my education, in really everything that I do to continue to prepare myself to be military ready for when we finally get this ban lifted.”
In the meantime, while his desire to serve started out internal (“I’ve always had an interest in military service,” he says), the ban and resulting lawsuit caused a pivot in his motivations, creating a larger purpose for him as he’s become the face of the lawsuit.
“It’s really become not only something that I need to do for myself, but for everybody else involved, not only to be able to give my personal set of skills to the U.S. military, but to be able to help open those doors for other people like me, who are being denied simply for being transgender because we all have so much to offer,” he says. “For me now, looking at the bigger picture, it’s for all of us.” 🔥
- Share Nicolas Talbott’s story. Share it far and wide.
- Contact your members of Congress to tell them you support transgender service members and urge them to take action to reverse the transgender military ban.
Ilona Westfall is a Cleveland-based freelance writer. When she’s not penning articles for a variety of northeast Ohio publications, she’s roller skating with Burning River Roller Derby, rolling d20s with her D&D group, or getting muddy in the woods. Follow her on twitter @IlonaWestfall.