By Will Smith
Transgender Americans serve our country in uniform at twice the rate of the general population yet they are forced to keep their gender identity a secret or risk being discharged. While the United States military made a tremendous step forward within the realm of social justice and fairness with the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” nothing was done to remove the ban on transgender individuals from serving in uniform, a uniform I proudly wear as an officer in the Naval Reserve.
There is no doubt the “next generation,” my generation, possesses a completely different worldview than our parents and certainly our grandparents. The lens through which we view the world has been colored with more shades of equality than any other in our country’s history. We cannot forget that some my age are merely one generation removed from a time when people were deprived of their voting rights, equal access to quality education and public facilities — people like my parents.
My generation drinks deeply from wells we did not ourselves dig. We have been afforded a vast array of opportunities that eluded those who came before us. To us, issues like equality should transcend religious affiliation, gender and race. To us, issues like marriage equality, the ability to rent a home we can afford and military service are viewed as unalienable rights, civil rights deserving of the law’s protection.
To me — a heterosexual, African-American, church-going, Catholic military officer — the issue of transgender service is personal. Equal rights and the struggle for fair treatment under the law is analogous to the civil rights struggles of my parents and grandparents. As the great civil rights activist Julian Bond once said, “No parallels between movements for rights is exact … but we are far from the only people suffering discrimination — sadly, so do many others. They deserve the law’s protection and they deserve civil rights too.”
In 2008, the fall of my third year of law school at The College of William and Mary, I applied for a commission as a Naval Reserve officer. This was an important and personal decision for me. I have always believed people’s safety and security was as important to protect as their civil liberties. My military service has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have been tremendously enriched by the love of country and dedication to its principles those with whom I serve demonstrated every day. My love and dedication to our country has compelled me to write this article. My aim is not only to shed light on this issue, but also to appeal to those in positions of power with the hope they may find the same strength and courage our service members display every day to rectify this lingering injustice.
Will Smith of Silver Spring is a candidate for the Maryland House of Delegates in District 20.