Jess Shipps of Hampton, Virginia was found dead on Tuesday after committing suicide. She served in the military for 10 years, leaving in 2013 to begin transitioning into a woman. She left behind a wife, who she married before her transition. She also helped many fellow LGBT veterans who were contemplating suicide. Her final post on Facebook read, “I tried,” according to the Daily Mail.
As reported by the New York Daily News, veterans and transgender people have higher rates of suicide than the general population. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey indicates that 41 percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide.
Christopher Hooper, membership director of SPART*A, an advocacy group for LGBT military members and veterans, said, “She was a go-to person for anyone that was feeling suicidal. If somebody needed someone to talk to, Jess is who we trusted. Jess leaves behind a great legacy. The countless number of lives she saved is a testimony to her strength and will.”
Army Sergeant Shane Ortega said, “She listened to other people’s stories and experiences, but she never talked about how she felt.” He added that he had no idea how much Shipps had been suffering, saying that it is common for those who serve in the military to “compartmentalize” their experiences.
Ortega has called for legislation that would permit transgendered individuals to serve openly in the military and has lobbied to remove gender dysphoria and transexualism as disqualifiers for active duty. A bill is now being drafted by U.S. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) that would eliminate the ban among all of the branches of the U.S. military. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, an estimated 15,000 transgender men and women are currently in active duty.
At the White House on Wednesday, Senior Airman Logan Ireland and Army Corporal Laila Villanueva, transgender military members who are engaged, went to an LGBT Pride celebration with four transgender veterans. Ireland was allowed to wear the uniform of the Air Force that was intended for airmen of the male gender.
Ireland said, “We went to the reception with a heavy heart, because we just lost a friend, someone who was part of our SPART*A family, but we are doing this for Jess, because she would want us to.”