For Naval Petty Officer Megan Winters, military service is a tradition.
“My father was in the service, in the Army, and I genuinely wanted to follow in his footsteps in serving my country,” says the 30-year-old, who serves aboard the Naval aircraft carrier CVN-77, a.k.a. the USS George W. Bush, based out of Naval Station Norfolk in Norfolk, Va.
“The Navy core values of honor, courage and commitment is something I can really relate to,” she says. “That truly sits with me every single day of my service. I genuinely feel those core values stand fast with me. I have honor, I have courage, and I am committed to serving my country.”
On Tuesday night, Winters, an active-duty transgender service member, was invited by U.S. Rep. Don McEachin (D-Va.) to attend President Trump’s State of the Union Address, where she hoped her presence would draw attention to President Trump’s proposal to discharge transgender service members who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria or have undergone a gender transition.
Winters is one of the plaintiffs in Karnoski v. Trump, one of four lawsuits challenging the proposed transgender ban. Under the Trump administration, the Pentagon has been pushing to implement a ban, arguing that the presence of transgender soldiers disrupts unit cohesion, hampers the ability of units to deploy overseas at a moment’s notice, and poses a significant financial burden by requiring Americans to pay for costly treatments for gender dysphoria.
Winters says she’s grateful to the congressman for extending the invitation to her, and hopes her presence at the State of the Union, in uniform, will help dispel misconceptions and myths about transgender service members. She adds that support for transgender service shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
“Honestly, I don’t stand to the left or to the right. I’m a service member who raised my hand to defend the country,” she says. “And I basically just want to put a face to the many active-duty transgender service members, approximately 15,000 of us, and make it known we are doing our job, abiding by the standards that are set for us.”
McEachin, who represents the district where Winters lives, told Metro Weekly in an interview Tuesday night that he was proud of Winters’ service and wanted to highlight her accomplishments and courage.
“She’s been a top notch sailor,” McEachin said. “It’s important people know that folks just like Megan want to serve and protect their country. We need to educate the public and let them know that people from all sorts of different backgrounds and orientations and identities are standing alone and watching the watch and protecting our nation. Any young person who is physically able to meet the rigors of U.S. military service ought to be allowed to serve.”
McEachin maintains that the arguments used to justify the push for a ban on transgender service members ring hollow.
“I’ve never had a constituent come up to me and say, ‘Hey, i think you’re wrong on this issue,'” he says. “Most folks who are against trans soldiers and sailors are homophobic to begin with, and it’s that homophobia we have to get them past.
“‘Equality under the law’ means that people who want to serve our nation should be allowed to do that,” he adds. “The ironic thing about this is that it wasn’t too long ago that they were saying this about African-Americans: that we’d disrupt unit cohesion, that an integrated Armed Forces would ultimately hurt our security. We’ve seen it do anything but that. The unit will always adapt to the circumstances it’s presented with. What we need to do is have policymakers who can adapt.”
Winters, for her part, doesn’t want to be seen as asking for “special rights,” as some anti-LGBTQ advocates often claim.
“Honestly, I’d love for the fact to be known that transgender service members are just qualified Americans who want to serve,” she says. “We abide by the same regulations as everyone else. … We don’t want to be treated differently. I raise my right hand just like my brothers and sisters next to me, and to call me something less than another standing next to me is difficult to hear.
“I’m not a social experiment, I’m not a burden, and I’m not an expense,” Winters adds. “I’m a service member who just happens to be transgender.”