Metro Weekly

Lawmakers invite transgender military members to Trump’s State of the Union Address

Democrats hope presence of special guests will highlight transgender service members' sacrifices and ability to serve

Logan Ireland - Photo: Jesse Ehrenfeld
Transgender service member Logan Ireland – Photo: Jesse Ehrenfeld

Several Democratic lawmakers have invited transgender active-duty or veteran military personnel to attend President Trump’s State of the Union Address to protest Trump’s push for a ban on transgender service members.

State of the Union addresses are typically used to push political points or communicate certain messages, by both the president those in Congress. Nowhere is this the case more than in the selection of certain people that congressional members invite as their guests.

In this case, Democrats — much like 70% of Americans — are almost universally opposed to a ban on transgender service members.

As such, lawmakers are voicing their disdain over Trump’s proposed ban by highlighting the sacrifices that transgender service members have made in defending the nation and casting the administration’s ban as disrespectful and un-American.

Among those attending the president’s speech tonight are: Army Major Ian Brown and Army Captain Jennifer Peace, who are attending as guests of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Petty Officer Megan Winters, one of the plaintiffs in the Karnoski v. Trump lawsuit challenging the ban, who is a guest of Rep. Don McEachin (D-Va.); Navy Lt. Commander Blake Dremann, who is a guest of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); Air Force Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland, who is a guest of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.); and Navy veteran Taivon Dignard, a guest of openly gay Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.).

Several organizations that advocate for LGBTQ military personnel praised the members of Congress for extending invitations to transgender service members.

“I am humbled that more than 15,000 selfless, transgender patriots will be represented on the House floor during the State of the Union Address,” OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Andy Blevins said in a statement. “Through their invitations, these legislators are reminding our nation of an important fact that our commander-in-chief seems to have forgotten — our nation’s armed forces are not better despite open transgender military service, they are better because of their open and authentic service.”

“By bringing these highly trained, decorated service members to the State of the Union, members of Congress are helping to put a face to the thousands of transgender troops serving our nation around the world at this very moment,” Ashley Broadway-Mack, the president of the American Military Partner Association, added. “Instead of being singled out by the Trump-Pence administration for discrimination, these patriotic Americans deserve our nation’s utmost thanks and support for their sacrifices and service.”

According to data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey and compiled by researchers at the Williams Institute, an LGBTQ think tank at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law, there are an estimated 134,000 veterans who identify as transgender, and an estimated 15,500 active-duty military members currently serving.

Another study by the RAND Corporation in 2016 estimates the number of active-duty service members, including members of the reserves, is closer to 11,000.

“Day after day, our transgender service members prove just how capable they are,” said Bryan Bree Fram, the communication director for SPARTA, an advocacy group for transgender service members. “Visible to their commanders, they are regularly recognized by the military for their accomplishments. Now, thanks to these legislators, their visibility is magnified, and the American people can get a glimpse of everything they do to support and defend the constitution and this nation.”

Currently, there are four lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s ban on transgender service members. In all four cases, lower court judges issued injunctions to stop the Pentagon from moving to discharge transgender service members who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria or transitioned to a gender that is different from their assigned sex at birth.

Two of those injunctions have since been lifted after a Supreme Court decision allowing the Pentagon to move forward with implementing the ban (once any remaining injunctions in cases not considered by the Supreme Court are lifted) all while the its constitutionality is challenged in the courts.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a preliminary decision in Doe v. Trump, a third case challenging the ban, in January. In that decision, the circuit court found that the federal district court had failed to give sufficient weight to new circumstances, including the introduction of the “Mattis Plan,” which purports to be more narrowly tailored than the categorical ban originally floated by President Trump in July 2017.

However, the D.C. Circuit left the injunction in that case in place until at least 21 days after forthcoming longer opinions from the circuit court are issued, in order to give the plaintiffs an opportunity to determine whether to request that the full D.C. Circuit rehear their arguments.

Lawyers for 14 plaintiffs in that case have agreed that Judge U.S. District Judge George Russell should lift a nationwide injunction, but have recommended he issue a special exemption that would prevent their clients from being forcibly discharged because of their unique individual circumstances.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify the position taken by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the status of the preliminary injunction in the Doe v. Trump case. 

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