April 11, 2019 at 11:32 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Members of Congress, activists rally against trans troop ban
U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) speaks at a rally against the Trump administration’s policy of banning openly transgender servicemembers that took place at the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool on April 10, 2019. The policy is scheduled to take effect tomorrow. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Members of Congress on Wednesday joined activists who gathered at the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool to rally against the ban on openly transgender servicemembers that is scheduled to go into effect at the end of the week.

California Congressman Gil Cisneros, a Democrat who served in the U.S. Navy, noted he was in the armed forces during Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

“Too many were forced to live their lives in secret, unable to be true to themselves,” he said. “We don’t want to go back to those dark days.”

“This administration is attacking servicemembers who have already proven their ability to meet strategic needs and pose no risk to unit cohesion or military readiness,” added Cisneros.

Maryland Congressman Anthony Brown, who previously served in the U.S. Army, said he is “angry that we’ve got to be here.”

“I’m angry that we have to remind our leadership that every single American deserves the right to fight for our nation,” he said. “I’m angry that we have a president who’d rather spend his time attacking people who are willing to fight and die for this country than working for the American people. I’m angry that our commander-in-chief demeans the military service of others.”

National Center for Transgender Equality Policy Director Harper Jean Tobin described the policy going into effect as “a disgraceful moment in our history.”

“For the first time, one of our national institutions will be turning back the clock on equality, shutting its door to people who have already proven their ability to the job. this Friday our country will be taking a big and disgraceful, shameful and unnecessary step backwards,” she said.

Human Rights Campaign Press Secretary Charlotte Clymer served in the Army for more than three years. She said at the rally that she handled the remains of servicemembers once they returned to the U.S.

“Every casket and transfer case I carried was covered by an American flag, every single one and that’s all I remember about any of them,” said Clymer. All I know about those I carried was that they died in selfless service and they wore the flag of this country to the grave.”

“No one at Dover Air Force Base or Arlington National Cemetery asked if those we buried were secretly transgender,” she added. “It didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now.”

Retired Sgt. Maj. Jennifer Long of the Transgender American Veterans Association served in the Army for three decades. She noted at the rally that she was at the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I have served my country with honor and distinction,” said Long. “I am and always will be a patriot. I am a transgender veteran.”

National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director Shannon Minter; Equality California National Policy Director Valerie Ploumpis and Sharon McGowan, legal director of Lambda Legal, also spoke at the rally.

‘We’re not here to go away’

Trans people had been able to openly serve in the military since 2016. President Trump in 2017 directed the Pentagon to reverse the Obama administration policy.

The announcement sparked widespread outrage among activists and criticism from then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of Congress. Lambda Legal, OutServe-SLDN, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Equality California are among the LGBTI advocacy groups that challenged the ban in federal court.

“We’re looking at Americans who want to sign up and serve our country,” now retired U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) told the Blade during a May 2018 interview. “These are the bravest individuals, the most patriotic folks that we would want there.”

“It just doesn’t make any sense when we are still fighting in so many parts of the world,” added the Florida Republican. “We need patriotic, committed, able to serve individuals, whether they are male, female, transgender.”

The U.S. Supreme Court in January essentially gave the green light for the Trump administration to implement the ban. The Pentagon on March 12 announced it would take effect on Friday.

The U.S. House of Representatives on March 28 approved a resolution against the ban that Kennedy introduced. Hannah Tripp, a transgender U.S. Air Force veteran who is on the OutServe-SLDN board of directors, at Wednesday’s rally said Americans “have voiced their support for open service. The leaders of our military have voiced the need for open service and transgender servicemembers have proven themselves integral to the combat effectiveness of our armed forces.”

“I cannot promise you that we will win this fight by Friday night, but I can promise you that we will win,” said Kennedy.

McGowan agreed, while describing the ban as a “despicable attempt to drive brave transgender men and women out of our military.”

“We’re not here to go away,” she said. “We are here to fight. We are here to win.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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