Czech army says 'no' to a woman who used to be a man

11-11-2004

Twenty years ago Jiri Brokes completed his compulsory military service in the Czechoslovak army. Now Jaroslava Brokesova is trying in vain to join the armed forces. What's the connection? Well, Jaroslava and Jiri are one and the same person. Last year Jiri Brokes, father of two teenage children, underwent a sex change. He recently received documents confirming that he is now officially a woman. But that's not enough for the Czech army, who say that they do not want him and are not even allowed to take on transsexuals. David Vaughan reports.

Following her sex-change, Jaroslava Brokesova decided that she would also like a new career. She went to the recruiting office and applied to join the army. She didn't hide the fact that she used to be a man, and passed all the initial tests. When it came to the medical, there was also no problem, but the army doctor said that she was a special case and would have to undergo extra psychological tests.

Six months later, she has just received a letter to say that the army does not want her, the official reason being - under army recruitment regulations - a "sexual identity disorder". Army doctors confirm that Ms Brokesova's sex-change is the reason.

But are they acting under the law? The paper Lidove Noviny quotes the respected psychologist and sex therapist Radim Uzel and the shadow Defence Minister Petr Necas as saying that the decision violates basic human rights. The ministry's defence is to quote the World Health Organisation, which, it says, classifies transsexuality as a sexual disorder.

Psychologists Radim Uzel and Petr Weiss both argue that while it was legitimate to say that Ms Brokesova was suffering from a sexual disorder before the operation, this is no longer the case, because the sex change has made her feel completely at home with her body.

Army and Defence Ministry officials are vehement that this is just a one-off case, and would rather let the whole matter die down, but Jaroslava Brokesova has made it clear that she will fight on, and that not even an apology will be enough.

Looking abroad does not offer much help in finding the answers. For example, people who are openly homosexual are not allowed to serve in the British armed forces, while the Czech army is more tolerant on this issue and has no problem with homosexuality. But as far as transsexuality is concerned, the UK is more tolerant. In the late 1990s one serving officer who underwent a sex change was allowed to remain in the army as a woman, working as a special advisor on gender issues. There was recently a similar case in Spain, where a navy tribunal ruled that a male officer could continue to serve after his sex-change operation.

11-11-2004