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Woman Who Used To Be A Man Seeks To Command American Legion Post

May 22, 1985

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) _ Bridgette Poi has worked hard for the American Legion post here, and last year ran unopposed for vice commander. Now she’s seeking the top post of the local, and facing an uphill fight.

Ms. Poi, a decorated Korean War veteran, used to be a man.

″Everyone knows who I am and what I am. I don’t have a disease. I’m just different cosmetically, but the same inside,″ she said Tusday.

″I don’t want bad publicity for the Legion. That’s not my purpose,″ said Ms. Poi, 50. ″If you go through a sex change, that’s what you are. I didn’t know I would be so controversial.″

Controversy has been Ms. Poi’s lifelong shadow - from childhood in southeastern Connecticut where she began to doubt her gender, through eight years as an airman, to a sex change operation in Mexico 12 years ago.

She married Richard Poi, a Marine Corps sergeant who was killed in Vietnam, and worked for the National Organization for Women in California until 1980 before returning to Connecticut, where jobs were hard to find.

″You find employers don’t hire you,″ she said. ″I went to 26 places for jobs with a GI certificate of eligibilty. I have a stigma. I complain to the Human Rights Commission. They say, ’You are not one of the protected classes. There are no guidelines for your kind.‴

But pride in her national service moved her to join American Legion Post No. 9 in 1982, and became vice commander. From the beginning there was dissension among the members.

″I checked her military records and found this was perfectly legal,″ District Commander Frederick Treat said. ″But some of the men just didn’t want to go for it.″

One member was barred from the post’s lounge for a month for verbally harassing Ms. Poi, and another threw down his membership card and quit, Treat said.

″The first year there were all the insults. I bit my tongue,″ Ms. Poi said. ″Now I’m being opposed because ‘we don’t want this kind of person.’ The issue should be what the person can do for the post.

New London City Clerk Clark van der Lyke, a member of John Coleman Prince Post in this Navy town in southeastern Connecticut, said people ″were rough on her in the beginning because they thought she was someone different. Everyone has their scapegoat.″

Ms. Poi paved her road to candidacy for post commander with hard work. As vice commander, she has organized fund-raising events for the post, staged a law-and-order night honoring a local police detective and is working on a Memorial Day parade and a beauty pageant.

As commander, she says she wants to bring professional wrestling shows to town and recruit more Vietnam veterans into the post.

″I can understand how Vietnam vets feel,″ Ms. Poi said. ″They need a place like the Legion. They’ve faced opposition and discrimination.″

Ms. Poi said the post’s nomination committee will not place her name in contention, but nominations in June can be taken from the floor and ″I hear I will be nominated that way.″

Some who oppose her bid for commander - the election will be held in July - say it’s not because of her sex change.

″No way. She hasn’t been around long enough,″ said post member Miles Denny. ″But it’s not because of the sex change. I don’t go for that, but I do think she’s run beautiful events for the legion. She just needs another year under her belt.″

Member Thomas Ralston says Ms. Poi would ″make a great commander. She’s got this club back on track again.″

Dennis Oxley, national spokesman for the American Legion in Indianapolis, said numerous posts around the country are composed solely of women who served in the armed forces.

But ″this is something brand new,″ he said.

″From our office, no one had been aware of it. But I know of no resolution that we would ever have come out for or against the morality of it or the legality of it. It’s up to (the local post) to determine their feelings.″

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