Transgender troops to attend State of the Union as Trump pursues ban

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As the Trump administration pursues a transgender military ban, at least four lawmakers have invited transgender people with records of military service to attend to President Trump’s State of the Union address in the House chamber in protest over his policy.

Although courts had initially blocked the Defense Department from implanting Trump’s reversal, the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month issued stays on those decisions, essentially green lighting the ban. (One injunction issued by a federal court against Trump’s policy remains in place for the time being, but the Justice Department is challenging that order.)

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a champion of transgender military service and now chair of the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee, announced Feb. 1 on Twitter she had invited Air Force Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland to attend the address.

Ireland, a security forces airman who served in Afghanistan, has been public about being transgender in the military. When the Defense Department sought to implement openly transgender service during the Obama administration, the Air Force consulted Ireland for guidance.

After the Defense Department unveiled plans last year to implement Trump’s plan to reverse that policy, Speier questioned former Defense Secretary James Mattis about the ban during a congressional hearing. Holding up a photo of Ireland, Speier asked Mattis to explain why Ireland shouldn’t serve. Mattis declined to say, citing ongoing litigation against the transgender ban.

Also on Friday, Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, announced he’d invite Navy Petty Officer Second Class Megan Winters to the State of the Union address.

“I have been fighting for LGBTQ equality since my time as a legislator in the Virginia General Assembly and have proudly continued that fight in Congress,” McEachin said in a statement. “Given the recent Supreme Court decision to allow the Trump administration’s transgender servicemembers ban to go into effect while challenges to the policy continue, I am honored to bring Megan, a dedicated patriot, to the State of the Union. Every member of our armed services deserves our utmost respect and gratitude for their service to our country,

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a 2020 Democratic presidential contender who’s set to introduce legislation in the U.S. Senate against Trump’s transgender policy, announced Monday she has invited Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann, a decorated transgender sailor, to attend the State of the Union address.

“I am inspired by Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann’s leadership and am honored that he will be attending the State of the Union as my guest,” Gillibrand said. “Lt. Cmdr. Dremann is a proud member of the U.S. Navy, he is a loyal patriot who has devoted his career to serving and protecting our country, and he is also one of the thousands of transgender service members serving in our military with honor and distinction. Transgender service members like Lt. Cmdr. Dremann make extraordinary sacrifices every day to defend our freedom and our most sacred values, and President Trump’s decision to ban them from military service is cruel and undermines our military readiness.

Dremann, who has been deployed 11 times and won the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy & Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal and the Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal, is president of the LGBT military group SPARTA.

Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, last year questioned each of the military service chiefs during congressional hearings on whether having transgender people in the military harmed unit cohesion. Each of the service chiefs answered “no.”

According to the statement from Gillibrand, the New York Democrat is set to introduce her legislation against Trump’s policy later this week.

On Sunday, Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), one of the freshmen openly gay members of Congress, announced he has invited transgender veteran Tavion Dignard from Auburn, N.H. to attend the State of the Union address.

A transgender man, Dignard served in the U.S. Navy from 1998 to 2002 and was honorably discharged, but now is a student at University of New Hampshire, according to a statement from Pappas’ office.

“President Trump’s transgender service ban weakens and politicizes our military despite the ridiculous claims of improving military cohesion,” Pappas said in a statement. “I’m so glad Tavion will be with me to tell his story, share his truth, and stand as a warmly welcomed guest of the United States House of Representatives. As lawmakers, it’s our job to hold the Trump administration accountable for its discriminatory policies. Denying transgender Americans their right to serve this country is a disgrace. They deserve equal treatment by their government and the law.”

“I thank Congressman Pappas for this unique opportunity to share my story and be a part of this incredible experience,” Dignard said in a statement. “I came out as a transgender man because I wanted to live my authentic truth and because I wanted to be the person I needed when I was younger. Being denied that opportunity put up absurd discriminatory barriers and created serious trauma in my life. No transgender service member should have to suffer through uncertainty about the acceptability of their identity or feel pushed out of their job for expressing who they are.”

According to a 2014 study from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, there are more than 15,000 transgender Americans in active duty and 153,000 transgender veterans.

Technically, openly transgender people in the military would be able to continue to serve in the military under the Trump policy — on its face anyway — because it has a grandfather provision for openly transgender people currently in the armed forces. However, openly transgender people wouldn’t be able to enlist in the military unless they’re willing to serve in their biological sex, and individuals who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria or seek transition-related care after enlisting would be kicked out.

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