October 13, 2017 at 10:58 pm EDT | by Karen Ocamb
Bipartisan legislation introduced to protect trans servicemembers

California Rep. Jackie Speier (Photo from Rep. Speier)

California Reps. Jackie Speier and Susan Davis joined four other members of Congress on Friday to introduce a bipartisan bill intended to protect transgender military servicemembers under siege by the Trump administration. H.R. 4041 prohibits the Department of Defense from discharging trans members of the Armed Forces based solely on their gender identity.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has repeatedly said the current policy of trans open service remains in effect until he has had a chance to develop a policy, under President Trump’s orders, based on recommendations from a panel of experts. Trans servicemembers have been serving openly since June 2016 without incident. However, in a sudden series of tweets last July 26, Trump issued a directive ordering Mattis and the Pentagon to reverse the Obama-era policy and kick out all transgender individuals working in any capacity and prevent any recruitment or promotion through the accessions policy. Trump gave Mattis six months to come up with a new personnel policy, while Mattis is simultaneously preparing for the possibility of nuclear war. LGBT groups have urged Mattis to recruit trans people with military or national security experience to sit on that panel of experts.

“Kicking out members of the United States Armed Services solely based on their gender identity is hateful, discriminatory and on the wrong side of history,” Speier said in a statement. “News flash, Mr. President — thousands of transgender troops already serve our country with pride and dignity. Our military should be focused on recruiting and retaining the best troops, not on rejecting qualified service members on the basis of discrimination.”

Republican Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida are co-authors of the new House bill, along with Democratic Reps. Adam Smith of Washington and out bisexual Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Last month, the Senate, lead by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, introduced a similar bipartisan bill, S. 1820, co-authored by Sens. Jack Reed, Susan Collins and to the surprise of many, John McCain. According to a reliable source in the Pentagon, McCain was asked to join Gillibrand’s efforts by Defense Sec. Mattis who really does not want to change to current pro-LGBT policy.

“I stood proudly with the previous administration when we lifted the ban on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Davis, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee who represents military-heavy San Diego. “Many of the arguments against transgender servicemembers are the same we have heard for gay service members, and the same we heard for women before that. Transgender servicemembers have and are serving with honor, distinction, and courage. No evidence has been presented to warrant a ban, which is based solely on discrimination. Our servicemembers should be focused on the singular objective of protecting Americans. This ban will only serve as a disruptive distraction of that effort.”

“Congress’ intention with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was to allow our brave servicemembers to openly serve in our armed forces without fear of being discriminated against,” said Ros-Lehtinen, who has a trans son and has been very critical of the Trump administration’s attitudes towards trans people. “The decision by the administration to not allow transgender individuals to serve in the military is a sad reminder of the dark chapters in our nation’s history that should never be repeated. The courts have usually been forced to adjudicate what constitutes discrimination but once again Congress is saying: No more. Any patriot, as long as they are qualified to serve, should have the ability to, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. These individuals are willing to sacrifice their lives for our freedom, a freedom that they should also be able to enjoy.”

“I cannot begin to stress how utterly immoral it would be for brave men and women who are currently serving in the U.S. military to be kicked out, and lose their careers, purely because of discrimination,” said Smith, a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. “This bipartisan legislation would prevent that kind of mindless discriminatory purge, and it is an important step toward reversing President Trump’s ban on transgender military service. We will continue to fight so that all individuals who are willing and able can volunteer in defense of their country.”

“Any American willing to risk his or her life to protect and serve our country deserves our gratitude and support,” said Sinema. “I’m proud to work with this bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers, including Arizona’s Sen. John McCain, in standing with our military.”

As outlined by Speier in her press release, the bill would:

“Express a sense of Congress that individuals who are qualified and can meet the standards to serve in the military should be eligible to serve;
Prohibit DoD from involuntarily separating, or denying the reenlistment or continuation in service in the Armed Forces of currently serving transgender service members solely on the basis of the service member’s gender identity; and
Require Secretary Mattis to complete his review of accession of transgender individuals into the Armed Forces by the end of this year and report the results to Congress.”
“Transgender troops serve this nation with distinction and honor, and President Trump’s unpatriotic attack on their service is unconscionable,” said Stephen Peters, HRC National Press Secretary and Marine Corps veteran. “Qualified Americans who are willing to put their lives on the line for their fellow citizens should be allowed to do so — regardless of their gender identity. We thank Representatives Jackie Speier, Charlie Dent, Susan Davis, Ileana Ro-Lehtinen, Adam Smith and Kyrsten Sinema for their leadership in defending transgender service members.”

The legislation was also praised by the American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest organization of LGBT military families.

“These members of Congress believe all service members, regardless of their gender identity, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect — not shamefully targeted for discrimination by their commander-in-chief,” said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack. “After being assured by the Defense Department that it was safe to come out, our transgender service members are now facing a great deal of uncertainty, and it’s compounding the strain on their families that already comes with military service. Instead of singling them out for blatant discrimination, President Trump should be praising transgender service members and their families for their selfless sacrifice and service to our nation. As the nation’s largest organization of LGBT military families, we are thankful for the support from these members of Congress who are demonstrating true leadership.”

AMPA is an organizational plaintiff in Karnoski v. Trump, a lawsuit challenging Trump’s ban in court. The suit is brought by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN on behalf of several transgender individuals, AMPA, the Human Rights Campaign and Gender Justice League.

The trans military servicemembers ban is expected to be the top topic at OutServe-SLDN’s 2017 LGBT Military Community Conference in D.C. from Oct. 19-21. Out former Sec. of the Army Eric Fanning and trans former Deputy Assistant Defense Sec. Amanda Simpson are scheduled to attend on Oct. 19.

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