January 29, 2018 at 12:07 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Trans service members invited as guests to State of the Union

Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) has invited a transgender soldier to the State of the Union address. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two members of Congress have invited a pair of transgender troops to attend the State of the Union address Tuesday in the aftermath of President Trump’s attempt to ban them from the U.S. military.

Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), chair of the Congressional Transgender Task Force, has invited Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King as his guest to sit in the House gallery as Trump delivers his speech before a joint session of Congress.

Kennedy, a rising star in the Democratic Party, is also slated to deliver the Democratic response in the aftermath of Trump’s address. Kennedy won’t be in attendance in the House gallery for the actual speech as a result of this commitment, according to his office.

The other transgender guest — Marine Corps veteran Lynda Bengtsson-Davis — will attend as a result of an invite from Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). According to Huffman’s office, Bengtsson-Davis served more than a decade in the Marine Corps and now seeks to enlist in the Air Force Reserve.

After Trump first announced in June he would ban transgender people from the military, he followed that up with a directive to the Pentagon barring transgender people from service or enlistment and denying payment for troops who need gender reassignment surgery. But as a result of multiple court orders following litigation from LGBT groups, Trump’s transgender ban was put on hold.

According to an article in the Boston Globe, King, 37, enlisted in the Army right after graduation from Cape Cod Tech and has been deployed to Afghanistan three times. She was serving in the Army at the time Trump announced his transgender ban.

“I have served for almost 19 years,” King is quoted as saying. “And all of a sudden, it is all hanging in the balance.”

King also asserts she was the first transgender person in the armed forces to have gender reassignment surgery paid for by the U.S. military. King was able to undergo the procedure in November as a result of the court orders against Trump’s ban.

“There are much easier ways to get surgery covered than enlisting in the military, [facing] the possibility of deployment and dealing with the stigma of being a transgender service member,” King was quoted as saying. “Every one of us who raises our right hand is prepared to give everything in the defense of our country.”

Huffman cited Trump’s transgender ban in a statement on the decision to invite Bengtsson-Davis, saying the transgender ban is but one of the Trump administration’s discriminatory policies.

“From his anti-Muslim travel bans, to his slurs about other nations, the first year of the Trump presidency has been an unrelenting attack on core values — equality, tolerance, diversity and unity — that have helped make our country great,” Huffman said. “When our president tries to take us backward by turning Americans against each other and stoking culture wars, he must be confronted.”

Bengtsson-Davis said in a statement Trump’s announcement he’d ban transgender people from the U.S. military “sort of blew me away.”

“This whole argument about transgender people in the military is just recycled garbage and it’s the same argument that was used for why African-Americans shouldn’t serve, why Native Americans shouldn’t serve, why women shouldn’t serve, why gays and lesbians shouldn’t serve and now why transgender people shouldn’t serve,” Bengtsson-Davis said. “It’s truly just discriminatory rhetoric and the story never changes, just the group it attacks does.”

According to the Associated Press, Trump is expected to cite during his remarks economic progress under his watch and call for funds for a U.S.-Mexico border wall and military spending. Trump has also said he’d unveil a $1 trillion infrastructure plan at the State of the Union address.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the State of the Union marks one year of the Trump administration targeting LGBT people and other minority groups.

“From literally day one, the Trump-Pence administration has pursued an agenda rooted in anti-LGBTQ discrimination,” Griffin said. “Donald Trump and Mike Pence have indulged extremists and engaged in a systematic campaign to make millions of LGBTQ people second-class citizens. In 2018, HRC, our grassroots army of three million, and our allies all across the country will continue to resist at every turn while mobilizing the largest grassroots campaign in our history to pull the emergency brake on their despicable agenda in November.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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