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Prepare for Battle, Mr. Trump

Prepare for Battle, Mr. Trump
Image courtesy of Openhouse

Trans vet Felicia "Flames" Elizondo -- who's survived riots, HIV, and a lifetime of discrimination -- pens this powerful open letter to our so-called president.

Dear Mr. Trump,

As I'm a a 71-year-old transgender, HIV-positive Mexican-American woman living in San Francisco, it probably won't surprise you to know that I voted for your opponent in the November election. In fact, you can count me among the "Not My President" battalion here in the Bay Area, where The Resistance is strong.

Just last summer, during Pride 2016, you tweeted, "Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs."

Like most of the promises you made on the campaign trail, you broke this one as soon as it proved convenient.

In a mere six months in office, you have threatened to remove questions about sexual orientation and gender identity from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants, pulled back protections for transgender kids in public schools, appointed an anti-LGBT Supreme Court justice, and neglected to recognize Pride Month. Just last week, your Department of Justice argued that antigay discrimination is legal under federal law, and you announced a ban on transgender troops, via Twitter, on the 69th anniversary of the desegregation of the U.S. military.

Now it's personal -- not just to who I am and to my community, but to the service I have given to our country.

You see, I love my country with all my heart. I also love my mother, and as a closeted young gay man named Felipe, I wanted nothing more than to make her proud, and to fight for my country. So in 1965, I enlisted in the Navy.

I didn't want to be gay. I didn't know how to be a woman, and I thought the military would teach me to "be a man." I served a year in Vietnam, and when I told the Navy priest I was gay, I was placed in solitary confinement and further punished with a dishonorable discharge to San Francisco. I did not settle for what I felt was an unfair assessment, and fought to have the ruling overturned. My military record now reflects that I was honorably discharged.

Life in San Francisco's Tenderloin district was difficult, as I struggled to find myself in a world that outlawed my very being. Of course, no one would hire a sissy like me, so like many of us who had been cast out by the world, I turned to prostitution -- and the abuse that came with it. It was the only way I could survive.

But survive I did, and I realized my courage had only begun in the military. I was just getting started.

I built a family from fellow queens and sissies who gathered in the Tenderloin, and was a regular at Gene Compton's Cafeteria, an unofficial gay space at the time and the scene of the cafeteria riots that broke out in August 1966. A police officer tried to arrest one of us for cross-dressing -- which was illegal at the time -- and she threw her hot coffee in his face. This ignited two nights of fierce resistance from us "Screaming Queens," including flying dishes and furniture, smashed windows, a vandalized police car, and a torched newsstand. We were tired of being harassed and heckled just for being ourselves. And while our uprising didn't make the news the way the Stonewall riots did a few years later, it did serve as a catalyst for change, eventually culminating in the 1968 creation of the National Transsexual Counseling Unit.

I survived being kicked out of the military, lived through society's attempts to outlaw me, and outlasted the AIDS epidemic. Despite being HIV-positive for more than 20 years, I'm still here. And I'm still fighting.

So I have some advice for you, Mr. Trump. While your promises are proving to be worthless, I am a woman of my word. And I promise you that I will not only survive your attack: I will thrive. Because you have reignited a flame inside me, my fellow transgender veterans and soldiers, and our LGBTQ allies. You have even sparked support for us from some unlikely new allies, including Orrin Hatch and John McCain.

As a transgender veteran who fought for freedom, I refuse to be sacrificed as a pawn in your culture war, because -- as you can see from the more than 15,000 transgender troops currently serving honorably in the military -- we've already won that fight. Our pride will not be banned, and our service to this country will not be forgotten or forbidden. Your ban will not stop transgender troops from serving this great country. Instead, your bigotry will fan the flames burning inside us.

Having survived rejection, riots, and the AIDS epidemic, this army of LGBTQ veterans, elders, and allies is ready to rumble. We are proud of our service to our country, and we are committed to finishing the fight for equality. You are playing with fire, Mr. Trump, and unlike the brave transgender soldiers and veterans who sacrifice daily for our country, you have never been to war. I suggest you prepare for battle, because we don't back down.


Felicia "Flames" Elizondo
San Francisco

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Felicia "Flames" Elizondo