In California’s 8th Congressional District, which spans much of the state’s border with Nevada, two Republicans are in a heated race for the seat. The challenger, Tim Donnelly, has a new billboard campaign attacking incumbent Rep. Paul Cook for his vote on transgender military service, and it uses a photo of a transgender veteran without her permission.
In bold text, the billboard shouts, “Ask Paul Cook Why He Voted To Allow Our Military Funds To Be Used For Sex-Change Surgeries!” It includes a photo of Allison Hannan stolen from an OUT Magazine feature about transgender veterans. According to the Los Angeles Blade, neither Hannon, photographer Cassidy DuHon, nor OUT gave Donnelly permission to use the photo.
The attack likely refers to a 2017 amendment to the defense spending bill that would have prohibited the military from funding any medical treatment related to gender transition. Cook was one of nearly two dozen congressional Republicans who helped defeat the amendment in a tight 209–214 vote.
Donnelly echoed the attack on Twitter, claiming, “Cook prefers we pay for boobs over boots.”
Cook voted for transgender surgery paid for by our military.
In the district we say "Cook prefers we pay for boobs over boots"
Which California Republican Will Out-Trump the Other in California’s 8th District? https://t.co/HLeMXW48Yv
— Tim Donnelly for Congress (@PatriotNotPol) October 8, 2018
Despite this particular vote, Cook has been no champion of LGBTQ equality. During the 114th Congress (2015-2017), the Human Rights Campaign gave Cook a score of 16 out of 100, noting that he voted against the LGBTQ community most of the time.
Cook has the endorsement of President Trump, but conservative activists believe the Republican Party “tricked” Trump into not endorsing Donnelly, who is even more conservative than Cook — particularly on the issue of immigration. Having prevailed as the top two in a “jungle primary,” both candidates are now trying to out-Trump each other in a district that is actually fairly evenly split among Democratic, Republican, and politically unaffiliated voters.
The Cook campaign has previously rebuked Donnelly for attacks over the issue of transgender people in the military. Their defense, however, is not that trans people should be allowed to serve and have their health needs met. Instead, Cook’s campaign spokesman Matt Knox explained last month that Cook voted against the amendment at the urging of Defense Secretary James Mattis, who was planning to implement a ban on funding surgical procedures anyway. “It’s unsettling that Donnelly would oppose our President and put our troops at risk just to make a cheap political point,” Knox deceptively said.
Hannan, who lives in a rural farming township in New Jersey, told the Blade that she was aghast to see her picture used in the ad. “I feel soiled that my image was used to advance the campaign of a homophobe/transphobe and my face is on a billboard next to a hateful message,” she said.
Ironically, the photo doesn’t even match the hateful message Donnelly is putting out there, because the government isn’t paying for Hannan’s transition. It’s been nearly 30 years since Hannan served in the Navy, where she received two Naval Commendations before being honorably discharged. She is only just now slowly beginning the process of transition as it’s financially feasible for her family. “Most importantly, I am funding my care, not the VA, and the needs of my children and wife will always take priority if there is ever an issue of competing resources,” she explained.
Still, she is offended by the underlying message of the ad: that transgender people are somehow of less value to the military. “What bugs me to no end is that my honorable service, like the others who have served honorably, is somehow devalued because of who we are,” she told the Blade.
True to Cook’s rationale for his vote against the amendment, Trump tweeted out a ban on transgender people serving in the military just two weeks after the amendment failed. Mattis has since tried to implement such a ban — which includes a blanket ban on funding medical procedures related to transitioning — but several different federal courts have repeatedly ruled that the discriminatory policy is unconstitutional and unenforceable.