July 1, 2020 at 11:38 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
DelBene draws on Supreme Court ruling in new effort for LGBTQ troops, veterans
Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) is taking steps to help LGBTQ troops and veterans.

On the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in favor of LGBTQ rights, a Washington State congresswoman is drawing on that decision to assist LGBTQ service members and veterans.

Rep. Suzan DelBene (D) reintroduced on Tuesday the Voices for Veterans Act, which will expand the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans to include LGBTQ veterans in its membership and scope.

DelBene, who first introduced the legislation in 2014, said Tuesday in an interview with the Washington Blade the bill is needed to address the “lack of representation of the LGBTQ community on the advisory board.”

“We’re reintroducing [it] again to continue to push forward so that LGBTQ voices are represented as they should be and they deserve to be,” DelBene said.

The Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans, established by Congress in 1994, advises the VA Secretary on meeting minority veterans needs on compensation, health care, rehabilitation, outreach and other VA benefits in addition to recommending program changes to address those needs.

Asked what congressional action she expects on the Voices for Veterans Act, DelBene said she’ll continue to build support for it, but conceded action may come at a later time.

“It also helps for us to have this momentum heading into the next Congress if we’re unable to get it passed this year,” DelBene said.

At the same time, DelBene is gathering signatures for an upcoming letter to the Justice Department and Pentagon calling for elimination of the transgender military ban in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling anti-LGBTQ discrimination is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The letter is set to made public next week.

Although Title VII doesn’t have an impact on the transgender military ban at face value, it did establish anti-transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination. Given U.S. legal jurisprudence has established laws related to sex should be subject to heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption they’re unconstitutional, that should make the transgender military ban vulnerable if subject to judicial review.

Asked to assess how the Trump administration has responded to that court ruling, DelBene said it “has on an ongoing basis made assaults on the LGBTQ community to take down their rights, especially in the military.”

“We have to see change,” DelBene added. “The issues had to go to the Supreme Court to be addressed. We should be looking at the Equality Act, and we’re going to follow that course and we have to address disparities in the LGBTQ community across the board.”’

Although the House has passed the Equality Act, DelBene pointed out the Senate under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is “unlikely” to take that up.

“We need to move forward and fight for rights in particular for trans rights the administration has been denying,” DelBene added.

Asked if she had any engagement with the Trump administration on the transgender military ban, DelBene said she has “not directly led yet,” but will build support for the letter, then “follow up when we release it.”

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

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