Look at him then, look at her now
Dave told his boss he'd reportto work as Diane. The boss said no way.
By MARK BROWNSPECIAL TO THE NEWS
Dave Schroer as a military commander in a May 1985 photo, and (below) in a recent photo after assuming a new role as a woman, Diane.
-->Diane Schroer grew up in Chicago, graduated from Northern Illinois University, made a career in the U.S. Army as an officer in Special Forces and now is suing the federal government for sex discrimination.
Diane was my college roommate.
Back then, we knew her as Dave.
Sorry if that brings you up short to read it that way, but that was intentional, because that's a taste of how it felt on this end when Dave let me know six weeks ago that he had become Diane.
As awkward as I feel, however, I try to keep in mind what it's like for Diane, emerging anew into the world at age 48 - and now having been put into the position where she must do so quite publicly in order to fight for what she thinks is right.
I'm taking her side in that fight, not just because I know she'd do the same for me, but also because I'm sure we owe it to her after 25 years in the service of our country.
Diane tells me she is a transsexual, currently in the process of "transitioning" from male to female. This is mostly new stuff to me, but as I understand it, transsexuals are individuals who feel strongly that they are, or ought to be, the opposite sex.
It is a feeling Diane kept well-hidden during a lifetime as a guy's guy - from high school gearhead to airborne Ranger by the time he left college to nail-spitting military commander with a key post in the war on terror.
"Hey, if I'm stuck with this boy thing, I ought to do it right," Diane told me about the philosophy that guided her through those many years when every day was confused with thoughts about being a woman.
Diane was still going by Dave when she applied for a job last August with the Congressional Research Service in Washington, as an analyst for terrorism and international crime. The research service, an agency within the Library of Congress, is the public policy research arm of Congress and well-respected for its nonpartisan reports.
Dave was highly qualified for the position, having served in a variety of command and staff posts during his military career before retiring effective Jan. 1, 2004, with the rank of colonel.
In his last assignment after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Dave was assigned to create and direct a 120-person classified organization within the Special Operations Command. His unit had what his lawyers describe as "responsibility for tracking and targeting of several high threat international terrorist organizations."
When I asked Diane to explain more precisely what that means, she told me, "I'd like to, but then we'd have to cut off your head and put it in a safe."
That's what I would have expected Dave to say, too.
Dave's combat experience included the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 to extract Gen. Manuel Noriega and the 1994 occupation of Haiti that restored Jean-Bertrand Aristide to that nation's presidency after he had been ousted in a coup. Dave speaks only obliquely about other unspecified operational missions over the years in Africa, the Middle East and Central America.
"I always say I did the desert before the desert was cool," Diane says, the words again sounding a lot like Dave, although voice training has helped her develop a passable woman's voice.
Supervisors at the Congressional Research Service must have recognized Dave's qualifications because they offered him the job, which he accepted.
The problem came when Dave went back for one more meeting with the woman who was hiring him to work out final details, including a start date. It was then that Dave told her about his gender change and that when he reported for work his first day he'd come as Diane.
Diane says the woman called the next day to say that after a "long, restless night" she had decided "for the good of the service" that Diane would not be a "good fit" for the job after all.
Diane told me her first instinct was to just let it go. But the more she thought about it, she felt the sting of injustice, the violation of principle.
The ACLU filed suit on her behalf yesterday.
That's the Dave I knew in 1976, when we decided to abandon the college dorm floor where I'd lived for three years - and him going on two - so we could rent an apartment off-campus.
I was a long-haired editor of the college paper, where I spent every waking hour when I wasn't in a bar. He was the oh-so-serious ROTC guy with a passion for constitutional law, trying to finish college in three years.
Dave was exceptionally self-disciplined, but he had a weakness for bad television. His compromise was to watch his shows, but do situps and pushups during commercial breaks.
The summer after I graduated he went to Army Ranger school, training in swamps. The next summer they had him jumping out of airplanes. He'd made 450 jumps before he retired.
We drifted apart after college, catching up with each other every decade or so. I never had a clue about his inner conflict, and looking back, still can't find any.
If there was one thing I would have told you about Dave Schroer in the days I knew him it's that he knew his own mind, and that's why I've got to believe he knows what he's doing now when he says he's really Diane.
Dave Schroer served our country well. Diane is prepared to do the same.
Mark Brown is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times
I'm with Mark. If Dave was qualified for that job, then Diane is qualified for that job, no two ways about it.