Dave Schroer was exactly the type of person the Library of Congress wanted to hire for the Congressional Research Service as in expert on international terrorism.
He had 25 years in the Army, more than 450 parachute drops in Special Forces, service as a battalion commander, and in Special Operations leading missions so hush-hush one still can't talk about them years later, he even had briefed Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on matters of international terrorism
Schroer applied for the job in August 2004 and the government personnel process ground slowly on, culminating with an offer of employment. His was a mix of boots on the ground and command level experience that the Library seldom can hire.
Over lunch with Library official Charlotte Preece on Dec. 20, where they were going over the final details of the job prior to starting in January, Schroer said he was under a doctor's care for gender dysphoria, was in the process of transitioning, and would begin work presenting as a woman, Diane.
The next day, 'after a long, restless night,' Preece called Schroer to withdraw the offer of employment. She said Diane would not be a 'good fit' with the Library or Congress.
'Did I want to just give it up and walk away? Turn tail and run, or fight it?' Schroer weighed the options for about three hours and decided to fight it.
'After risking my life for more than 25 years for my country, I'd been told I'm not worthy of the freedoms I worked so hard to protect.' She says, 'All I'm asking is to be judged by my abilities rather than my gender.'
Dave's journey began in the Chicago suburb of Oak Lawn where he grew up steeped in the tradition of duty, honor and country. His father had served in the Pacific during World War II, his oldest brother was a career soldier who served in Special Forces and taught at West Point, while another brother served in the Marines. Dave joined ROTC in college for the financial benefits and quickly fell in love with the service.
But even as a child, before puberty, he felt he was different. He began periodic 'cross-dressing as a coping mechanism, not really understanding why,' and poured himself into work, first school, then the Army and a 16-year marriage.
'You learn to cope, you push it into the background, and you become a workaholic,' Schroer said in an exclusive interview. It was a classic case of 'the best little boy in the world' syndrome, overcompensating for that sense of being different.
Understanding those feelings and doing something about them were decades down the road.
Diane says things really began to change about five or six years ago, and credits the anonymity of the Internet with making that possible. 'It allowed me to go and find information, sort it, and find what I thought was credible and discard the rest.'
Transgender chat rooms were a revelation. She says, 'The jigsaw pieces at that point kind of settled into place and there was a dawn of understanding at that point.'
The path led to the Southern Comfort conference in Atlanta in the fall of 2003. 'For the first time in my life I spent an extended period of time as a woman. It was a life-changing experience.'
But Dave saw 'the Grand Canyon between where I was and the solution on the other side. And I was not Evel Knievel, there was jut no way to make that leap.'
The third epiphany came at a marina as friends joined Schroer for a day of boating. 'When Sally stepped out of the car that morning, all of that changed. I felt it almost immediately: I thought, this is doable, she looks great, she is eminently passable. I can do this.'
The internal motorcycle slipped into a higher gear.
Schroer has gone through most of the steps of a transition and will fully complete the process within a year. For all practical intents and purposes she comes across as 'just a big girl, a woman who has spent a lot of time in the Army.'
There have been some surprises along the way. 'I feel much calmer about life now and I credit that to the hormones,' she says. 'I don't want to sound like the punch line from a joke, but I'd say there is another whole level of understanding. You begin to notice things that were always there but just flew by, that were just clutter on the radar screen.'
Schroer adds, there was another revelation, 'I'm shocked at how uncooperative, difficult women can be with other women … on this side of the fence it tends to be even more dog eat dog.'
She is pleased with the reception from family and former colleagues in the military. 'Well over 95-98 percent of the people that I have respected and valued have respected this [ decision to transition ] as well. They may not understand it, but that is irrelevant, they accept it as my decision.'
Diane had been a hiring officer in the military so she knew how the government personnel system works. That same night after the job offer at the Library of Congress was withdrawn, she drafted a complaint and sent it off the next day.
The answer came back, while what occurred might have been discrimination, it wasn't illegal because transgendered individuals are not covered under the law. Case closed.
Fortunately, that same evening Diane had gone online and filled out an application for assistance with the American Civil Liberties Union ( ACLU ) . They quickly agreed to take on the case and sent a letter to the Library on her behalf. It drew the same response.
The next step was to file suit; Schroer v. Billington was filed on June 2. It charges that the Library discriminated against Schroer 'because she departs from sex stereotypes and otherwise because of her gender.'
The Library 'purposefully and intentionally discriminated against Plaintiff because she is transgender, and in doing so acted arbitrarily, irrationally and without constitutionally sufficient justification.'
'I would like to think that this is an aberration' and the Library will come to its senses, says Sharon McGowan, the attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project who is handling the case.
She acknowledges that 'from a legal perspective the courts have been slow to recognize that transgender is a form of sex discrimination.' However, the precedent has been established by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that sits in Cincinnati and in some lower court decisions.
McGowan is frustrated that once again, as with the policy of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' the government is letting prejudice stand in the way of allowing some of the most competent people to serve in the war on terrorism.
Diane soldiers on, imbued with the creed of duty, honor, country. Some things are done simply because they are the right thing to do. This is one of them.