November 11, 2017, Veteran’s Day, Mickie Schnider was called to the front of a room at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) hall in Orofino, Idaho.
She was one of 10 veterans called up that night to receive a Quilt of Valor in recognition of her twenty-four years served in the Army National Guard, which included one active duty tour in Vietnam.
In 1965, Mickie—known to everyone at the time as John—joined the National Guard. She was a junior in high school living in Cottonwood, Idaho which had a population of about 650.
Mickie left Cottonwood at nineteen to enter basic training at Fort Lewis, and then went on to Fort Leonardwood and became a demolition specialist in 1967. In 1968, her unit, the 116th Engineer Battalion was activated and she was sent to Vietnam.
She spent just under a year in Vietnam where her unit built roads, bridges, and base camps. Mickie’s primary position was as her company’s mail clerk, and upon her return stateside, she returned to her previous employment with the U.S. Postal Service.
Mickie discharged in 1969 following her active duty deployment. In 1972, she re-enlisted and in 1982 accepted a position in maintenance with the Postal Service and relocated to where she currently lives, in Orofino, where she also started her own locksmith business. She officially retired from the military in 1992, and from the Postal Service in 2003.
When asked about her thoughts on the recent ban on transgender service members serving in the military, Mickie simply stated, “I wish they would just let transgender people serve openly—they are just as committed to our country as anyone else.”
Mickie hid her own transgender identity while in the military.
“I was just too afraid to tell anyone, anywhere at that time. I was 60 years old before I told anyone about it. After making a trip to the barn with my gun, crying a lot, and thinking of my mom who was still alive, I realized I didn’t want to take any drastic measures while she was still alive. Yet, I decided to start my coming out process.
“It would be another year before I would have the courage to go into town as myself. I first had a meeting with a friend who was a detective at the time, to tell her that I wanted to begin living a life that was true to myself, but was scared to death of being pulled over because I was afraid of how the police here might react. She said she would speak to the sheriff and the chief of police and let them know.
“About a month after that, I got a call to unlock a car at a bank in town and that was my first trip into town as Mickie.
“I’ve become a lot more comfortable since then, even though there are people here who won’t look at me and won’t talk to me.”
It was clear that the people who would deny Mickie of her humanity were not present at the VFW as she accepted her quilt this evening in November. Her daughter, her granddaughter, and several others from the community lined up and waited for their chance to give Mickie a hug, and thank her for her service.
I asked Mickie, a supporter of Pride Foundation since 2014, why she gives, both financially and of her time, and she replied:
“I believe you help people, and if I can help in some way, I will. We who are LGBTQ need someone out there who understands us, and Pride Foundation is always there.”
All of us at Pride Foundation join in honoring you, Mickie, and thanking you for your support and your service to our country.
Tylene Carnell is Pride Foundation’s Regional Philanthropy Officer in Central and Eastern Washington. Email Tylene.