Air Force Staff Sgt. Ashlee Bruce says she doesn’t know what the future will hold as President Trump begins enacting policy to remove transgender service members from the military. But she’s determined to continue the fight for transgender rights — even if she’s booted from the Air Force.
“The fight is not going to be easy and I think we’re all aware of that,” Bruce, 26, tells PEOPLE. “If I can forge the way and clear out the path for other transgender individuals to serve in the military, I’m more than willing to make that sacrifice. No matter what it takes.”
Trump on Friday ordered the Department of Defense to reverse a 2016 order allowing transgender individuals to serve openly in the military. Under the new policy, announced on a call with reporters Friday evening, the military will be indefinitely barred from accepting new transgender troops, and new trans-related medical treatments will be blocked.
The order confirmed a Wednesday report from The New York Times, that revealed Trump’s plan for the proposed ban and noted that the policy would end medical coverage for sexual reassignment surgery and hormone treatments.
The memo comes one month after Trump announced the proposed ban in a series of tweets, saying that the “military must be focused” and “cannot be burdened” with the medical costs of transgender military members. The tweets left the Joint Chiefs of Staff scrambling to figure out how to interpret and implement the decision.
Now, Bruce says that receiving any news after the initial, headline-making announcement is a relief.
“Being left in the dark, having that axe hanging over you is not fun,” she tells PEOPLE. “So to finally know what the basic policy might be and what they’re thinking — it was a relief for me.”
She adds: “In the circles that I’m in of other military transgender people … we then knew what was coming, what we had to work on and what the enemy was planning.”
Bruce, who is stationed at Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, joined the military in 2013 and came out as transgender in March. She is undergoing hormone treatments. Although she can be freely female while off-duty, she presents herself as male at work, going by her birth name, Matthew.
Bruce tells PEOPLE that if she is forced to leave the military in the near future, she will do her best “to serve my government in some other capacity.” She says that although she loves serving in the Air Force, she is coming to terms with the fact that she may not be able to do so much longer.
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“I’ve been thinking about what other stuff I would like to do. What other adventures might be out there for me,” she says. “One thing I’ve always wanted to do in my life is hike the Appalachian Trail. So, I’d take this opportunity to do that and take a few months to figure out where I wanna go from here.”
Bruce tells PEOPLE that Trump’s tweeted announcement also prompted her to begin saving money to cover the cost of her transgender rather than rely on the military.
“I make a decent amount of money and transgender people around the world fund their surgeries out of their own pocket and I see them doing that and I see myself as capable of doing that as well,” she says.
“It may take some sacrifices here and there. I may not not be able to go out as many nights as I usually do or eat out as much but those are sacrifices I’m willing to make.”