At least four of the guests at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address will be either transgender people currently in the military or transgender veterans, a visible rebuke of President Donald Trump’s efforts to ban them from serving.
Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA) has invited Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Megan Winters, who is one of the plaintiffs challenging the trans military ban. “As many as 15,000 transgender individuals currently serve in the U.S. military, and they deserve our utmost respect and gratitude,” McEachin said in a statement. “Unlike our current commander in chief, I will always support and defend the brave members of our military.”
Likewise, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who now chairs the House Armed Services personnel committee, has invited Air Force Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland as her guest for the speech. Ireland, who served in Afghanistan, helped consult on implementing open transgender service in the Air Force after President Obama lifted the ban, and he and his wife have been outspoken advocates for trans service. Last April, Speier questioned then-Defense Secretary James Mattis about whether service members like Ireland were a “burden” on the military. Mattis refused to praise him.
Last April, I asked Sec Mattis whether he would thought courageous trans servicemembers like AF Staff Sgt Ireland are a "burden" on our military. This year I'm proud to have Staff Sgt Ireland as my guest of honor at the #SOTU. He’s proof that our #trans troops make us stronger! pic.twitter.com/TAj3sOeXwU
— Jackie Speier (@RepSpeier) February 1, 2019
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has invited Navy Lieutenant Commander Blake Dremann as her guest. In her announcement, she noted that she is also planning to introduce legislation to protect transgender service members from Trump’s ban.
Freshman congressman Chris Pappas (D-NH) also joined the cause, announcing Sunday that he had invited transgender Navy veteran Tavion Dignard as his State of the Union guest.
My guest for the #SOTU will be Tavion Dignard, a transgender Navy veteran. The Trump Admin’s transgender service ban makes America less safe and politicizes our military; everyone who is fit to serve should be treated equally. I’m proud to welcome to Tavion to the People’s House. pic.twitter.com/LLjWUoZYav
— Congressman Chris Pappas (@RepChrisPappas) February 3, 2019
The invitations are particularly notable, as they come weeks after the Supreme Court said it was willing to allow Trump’s ban to take effect while four different trans military ban lawsuits play out in lower courts across the country. One lower court injunction remains in place for now, but the status quo could soon be upended.
Technically, the ban grandfathers in transgender members already serving openly, so Winters, Ireland, and Dremann would presumably not lose their jobs. However the ban does prohibit any other transgender individual from serving in the gender with which they identify. It would also mean that any one currently serving who comes out as transgender and needs to transition would lose their job in the process.
While the administration claims it did its own study to substantiate the ban, the conclusions it drew about whether trans people could serve did not match the research the study group collected.
Dremann was one of the service members who spoke to that study group, and he told ThinkProgress last year that he left the meeting with an optimistic understanding that the group appreciated the value of trans service. Instead, however, the final policy aligned with junk-science talking points from anti-LGBTQ advocacy groups, who reportedly consulted with Vice President Mike Pence to dictate the outcome.
The four lawsuits challenging the ban are currently mired in disputes over discovery, with the administration refusing to turn over records about how it arrived at its decision. In the meantime, the administration has also convinced one appeals court to agree that the ban doesn’t technically target transgender people as a class, even though it prohibits anyone who has transitioned from serving.
In a recent interview, Ireland said, “We’re going to continue to serve honorably and to give everybody the same dignity and respect that we’re asking for. I would hope that this administration would see that we just want to serve like everybody else.”