Jessica Meadows remembers the exact moment that she knew she needed to come out as transgender. It was 2003, and for a few years she had been stationed in Germany with the United States Army, living as the male that she was raised as, alongside a wife and children. Eventually she was deployed to Iraq with the 1st Armored Division, the first group of soldiers to be deployed during the conflict.
Jessica’s battalion engaged in firefight – during one episode, a barrage came on quickly, and in that moment and the days that followed, Jessica’s mind flashed to one key thought: “I don’t want to die like this and have that name be the name on my tombstone.”
“I knew right then that I hadn’t been the real me for my entire life,” Jessica said. She knew that she should come out as transgender – that is, share with her family that although she was raised male, that never quite fit, and so she intended to transition to live every day as the woman she knows herself to be. Her gender identity had been a source of anxiety for a long time: At a young age, her family questioned her sexuality, letting her know that LGBTQ people would not be welcome in the house. Jessica overcompensated, beginning to overthink how to speak, how to walk. “Was I giving anything away?” she wondered. “Was I doing anything not normal?” The stress of it all landed her in a children’s hospital with an ulcer. In some ways, it also led to her joining the military: “I kept telling myself that if I submerged myself in masculine stuff, I’d get rid of these feelings,” she reflected.
After coming out, Jessica legally changed her name, ended her time with the military with an honorable discharge, and settled back down in Terre Haute, Indiana, where she was born and raised. She was ready to move on with the next phase of her journey in life. But when she went to the VA to get her military records changed, she hit a roadblock.
Jessica has been slammed against that roadblock for the past 15 years, with the VA, local government, and federal decision-makers giving her a bureaucratic runaround. She’s been unable to receive her veterans’ ID card, access the GI bill, or visit a VA hospital. After facing firefight in Iraq while serving in the U.S. Army for four years, she is being treated as less of a soldier, simply because she is transgender. One letter refusing to change her records even said, “It would be an injustice to the person who served to change the name on these records.”
Jessica has worked with her member of Congress to have her case reviewed by the Department of Justice and the human resources department of the Army. She can’t consider litigation because of a contract military professionals sign vowing not to sue after enlistment. She continues to fight every single week to access the military benefits that she earned. “It’s all been very frustrating, to say the least,” she said.
Other elements of Jessica’s life have also been trying. She has endured challenging custody battles and nasty legal fights and assaults on her property from her ex-wife. She has faced disrespect from the civil justice system, including frequent and blatant misgendering from judges. And to receive quality medical care – or really medical care at all – she has to make a two-and-a-half-hour roundtrip drive into Indianapolis. Doctors in Terre Haute and surrounding communities have all turned her away. “If they don’t know you’re trans, you can go in and get treated – but the second they retrieve your records, they say they can’t see you anymore,” she said.
What’s more, in 2015 she was terminated from her job as statewide regional director for a company that provides home health care for people with disabilities. Jessica presented at work every day as the woman that she is – but some people at the company were not aware that she is transgender. A coworker outed Jessica, revealing to management that she is transgender, and she was forced out of the job. Over her many years at the company, many of her clients knew her to be transgender and were perfectly fine and supportive. Now she works at a different home health care company, but in a lower role, making almost half as much money, seeing fewer clients.
Again and again and again, Jessica Meadows has seen the impact of anti-transgender discrimination. She’s seen what it’s like to navigate a world without clear guidelines on how to appropriately and competently address transgender people. She’s seen what it’s like to live in a rural area where transgender people are denied basic medical care and services just because of their gender identity. She’s seen what it’s like to live in a state where LGBTQ people are not fully protected from employment discrimination based on gender identity.
Jessica Meadows has seen all of this, and yet she still has hope for the future. She is the proud parent of three young adult children, including one who wants to be a nurse and one who wants to be a pediatrician with a focus on children with disabilities, plus a stepdaughter and two grandchildren. She is a loving spouse to her husband of more than ten years. She is good at her job and cares for her patients. And she knows that life shouldn’t be as hard as what she has faced.
“It shouldn’t matter what color someone is or what their religion is or who they love,” she said. “I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I’ve been through. No one else should have to go through any of this.”
That’s why Jessica is gearing up to run for state Senate in Indiana. The election for the seat she’s vying for is in 2022, but she wants time to have conversations across her district and speak to people about the issues that she cares about.
“In my lifetime I have found that there is no greater calling than advocating, supporting, and fighting for others,” she said.
If elected, she’d be the first out transgender lawmaker in Indiana history.