(ABOVE: (L-R) Orange County District 5 Commissioner Emily Bonilla, Florida Senator Linda Stewart, Orlando District 5 Commissioner Regina Hill, JOY MCC Senior Pastor Rev. Terri Steed Pierce, Orange County District 3 Commissioner Pete Clarke, Florida House District 49 Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, Orlando District 4 Commissioner Patty Sheehan.)
ORLANDO | Nearly two dozen elected officials are standing in solidarity with the transgender community after President Donald Trump’s tweets last week announcing a ban on trans people serving in the U.S. military.
Eric Rollings, Orange County’s Soil and Water Conservation Chair, spoke from the pulpit at JOY Metropolitan Community Church July 30, reading from a list of Central Florida politicians who stated they unequivocally stand with the LGBTQ community, especially with the transgender community in light of the recent attacks.
“This past week was really tough for the LGBT community, with an emphasis on the T,” Rollings said. “It’s amazing what three tweets can do to rock 15,000 people’s lives directly, and so many more indirectly.”
Rollings was joined at JOY MCC by several of the officials on the list, including; State Senator Linda Stewart, Orange County Commissioner’s Emily Bonilla and Pete Clarke, Orlando City Commissioner’s Patty Sheehan and Regina Hill, State Representative’s Amy Mercado and Carlos Guillermo Smith.
“I talked to my neighbors, my co-workers and other elected officials; and they too were shocked, concerned and worried, and frankly I was mad,” Rollings said. “I don’t think I had been that mad for a very long time because all of us as a community have worked so hard to make this city and county one of love, one of support and one united.”
Trump’s tweets on July 26 not only left community members upset, but also left members in the military community confused and scrambling for answers. While the first in the series of three tweets claimed that the president consulted with “generals and military experts,” no one in the Joint Chiefs of Staff were advised of any policy changes or aware that the tweets were being sent.
Smith, who represents Florida House District 49, says that all this confusion from Trump will do nothing but thicken the bonds in the community, and that is why he felt compelled to be at JOY MCC.
“It was important to be here to stand in solidarity with the transgender community during a very difficult time when the President of the United States is sending confusing, yet bigoted and transphobic, messages from The White House,” Smith says. “The reality is that we all know very well that when someone within our community gets attacked then we all come together to support that community.”
Smith says that any transgender person who is interested in serving this country should still go out and enlist.
“I personally met with a member of the Joint Chiefs, the Chief of the National Guard, and I was given the very clear indication that transgender troops who are actively serving aren’t going anywhere,” Smith says.
Sheehan, the city’s first openly gay elected official, says it was nice to see other elected officials out supporting the LGBTQ community.
“I’m delighted to see that we had so many elected officials, Republicans and Democrats, here for us. This is why it is so important to continue to say LGBTQ, to continue to talk about inclusion and not make us invisible. That has been a real challenge for me this past year, challenging that, and this is what happens when you don’t celebrate inclusion and you don’t talk about the visibility of our community, these rights can be taken away way to easily,” Sheehan says.
JOY MCC’s Senior Pastor, Rev. Terri Steed Pierce, echoed that sentiment, calling the gathering of so many elected officials under one roof for a single cause “encouraging” and “promising.”
“I think it says that they recognize who we are, that we are voting citizens and that we have a voice, and by coming here and standing in this place we realize they will speak on our behalf. That’s what we need and we are looking for and we will be in support of any of those people who stand with us, and stand for justice and equality,” Pierce says.
Pierce has seen attacks against members of the LGBTQ and minority community throughout the years and says the most important thing we can do is let those who are currently under attack know that we are standing with them.
“We had a transgender person visit our church for the first time today and I told her ‘honey, you are always welcome in this place,’ and she said to me ‘I will definitely be back,’” Pierce says. “I’m glad that there was a showing here today so all the people who feel unsafe and unwanted understand that we are here for them, always have been and always will be.”
A group of more than 50 members of Congress from the House Armed Services Committee, Judiciary Committee and LGBT Equality Caucus joined in with those standing with the transgender military community and sent a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, urging that they not comply with Trump’s transgender ban. Of those who signed the letter was Florida Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy.
“Our nation has always honored the sacrifice and patriotism of those who bravely volunteer to serve in our Armed Forces. Banning transgender Americans from serving violates those values. Building a strong military that can preserve our nation’s security means recruiting and retaining the best and brightest Americans, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. As a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the LGBT Equality Caucus, I’m committed to fighting for equality everywhere, including in our military,” said Congresswoman Murphy in a statement.
Back at JOY MCC, Rollings, standing in front of the congregation, said it is ok to be upset and mad about what is coming out of The White House as long as, as a community, we also push back.
“We are on the right side. We are on the side of equality and love,” he said. “Be mad, but be active. Follow hope and follow love. Don’t let someone with a heavy hand on a keyboard on social media bring you down.”