Shane Ortega is an Indigenous (Native American) former American soldier who served in the U.S. Army as an aviation flight engineer. A former U.S Marine, Ortega was a staff sergeant at Wheeler Airfield in Oahu, Hawaii in the 3-25th Combat Aviation Division of the Army's 25th Infantry Division. He was a member of the Gay Men's Chorus of Honolulu and competed at the professional level of bodybuilding, placing fourth in fall 2015.
Born in Patuxent River, Maryland to military parents and assigned female at birth, Ortega never considered any other career. His father served in the U.S. Navy while his mom served in the Navy and Army. Two of his uncles served in Vietnam; every male in his family had historically served in every major war. He also knew he wasn't female when he was very young, "I’ve known since I was a child." While still in Monacan High School outside Richmond he signed up for the Marines, and left for boot camp two days after graduating in 2004.
Ortega served three hazardous duty tours: two in Iraq with the USMC as a woman, and one in Afghanistan with the Army as a man. "My commitment to serving this country runs deep," Ortega said. "I have been a team and squad leader, a flight engineer, and a machine gun section chief."
Ortega executed over 400 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, "and fought side-by-side in foxholes and remote operating bases." He said, "I will continue to fight this fight for the 700,000 transgender veterans that have gone before me who were forced to choose between serving their country and being true to who they are." Ortega noted that in a combat zone his gender identity made little difference, as he was expected to carry his own equipment and do his job—lives counted on it. Military regulations used to deem "any proclamation of a transgender identity or gender-affirming clinical treatment to be evidence of a mental illness that makes one unfit to serve" according to The Advocate. Evaluated by an Army doctor, Ortega was determined to be free of gender dysphoria and deemed fit to serve.
Beginning in 2008, Ortega advocated LGBT rights. He co-founded support organizations and lobbied with legislators, often using his open own personal experiences and performance record to help advance the cause for transgender and LGBT service members. In championing the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT), equal opportunity protections for LGBT members, acceptance of women in combat roles, and lifting the ban on transgender military service, he worked with the military chain of command and the ACLU.
In 2011 the DADT ban against gay and lesbian military people was lifted, but still in place was a ban against transgender people from serving because, according to CBS News, "it is based on military medical regulations put in place before the American Psychiatric Association declared, in 2013, that being transgender is not in itself a mental disorder."
In August 2014 the Pentagon asked each military branch to reassess rules regarding labeling transgender troops automatically medically unfit, although other troops with medical conditions are not automatically disqualified. Echoing the removal of DADT, in February 2015 senior Defense Department officials confirmed that a new plan for the Army was being considered, to change the policy so dismissal was made only by the assistant secretary of the Army for personnel, a senior official. In June 2016, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced, "We're ending the ban on transgender Americans in the United States military. Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender."
- Marcelo Garcia, Shane Ortega speaks on activism and personal experiences at “No One Left Behind”, 20 November 2017, The Highlander
- Brydum, Sunnivie (10 April 2015). "Meet the First Out Actively serving Trans Soldier in the U.S. Military Army Sgt. Shane Ortega, a transgender man currently serving in Oahu, knows that 'administratively, I shouldn't exist.'". Advocate politics. The Advocate. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- Eilperin, Juliet. "Transgender in the military: A Pentagon in transition weighs its policy". Washington Post Politics. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- April 10, 2015 | by Chris Johnson Army soldier becomes first (nationally public) open trans person in U.S. military https://www.washingtonblade.com/2015/04/10/army-soldier-becomes-first-openly-trans-person-in-u-s-military/
- April 10, 2015 | by Chris Johnson Army soldier becomes first openly trans person in U.S. military http://www.washingtonblade.com/2015/04/10/army-soldier-becomes-first-openly-trans-person-in-u-s-military/
- Lapook, Jonathan. "Transgender people push for acceptance in military—and beyond". CBS News. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- Vanden Brook, Tom. "Army considers easing policy on transgender soldiers". USA Today. USA Today. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- "Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Carter on Transgender Service Policies in the Pentagon Briefing Room". defense.gov. U.S. Department of Defense. 30 June 2016. Retrieved 11 July 2017.