Eight years ago today, the deeply discriminatory law known as “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) officially came to an end. September 20, 2011 was a day of incredible celebration as gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members were finally able to serve our nation openly and authentically. But after such tremendous progress, little did we know that only seven years later, there would be a new “don’t ask, don’t tell” forced onto the military in the form of a transgender military ban.
For more than 17 years under DADT, lesbian, gay and bisexual servicemembers were forced to hide who they are or be shamefully kicked out of the military. More than 13,000 servicemembers — including me — were discharged during those dark years, adding to the more than 100,000 who had been discharged from the military because of their sexual orientation since World War II. The discrimination these American patriots faced destroyed their military careers, disrupted their units, and undermined the missions they had been trained to accomplish.
The Modern Military Association of America (MMAA), then known as the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), was a leading force in the fight to repeal DADT. Thanks to the tremendous and unwavering work of an entire community of advocates, we were victorious and our nation took a huge step forward in ensuring everyone who serves our nation in uniform is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
But today, we face a new form of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” this time targeting transgender servicemembers. In June 2016, the military updated the outdated regulations that prevented transgender people from serving authentically, finally allowing these troops to also serve openly with pride. But nearly a year later, a new occupent of the Oval Office decided to single out these brave Americans and target them for discrimination based on nothing more than bigotry.
Reversing decades of progress via Twitter, Donald Trump declared that he was officially banning transgender people from the military, unconscionably claiming they were somehow a “tremendous burden.” Thousands of transgender servicemembers woke up to a commander-in-chief who had abandoned them, putting them in the cross hairs of discrimination. Trump’s message was clear: Hide who you are, or be kicked out of the military.
At MMAA, we immediately sprung into action. Representing transgender servicemembers, qualified transgender recruits, the Gender Justice League and the Human Rights Campaign, we joined with Lambda Legal and Winston & Strawn to file a lawsuit against Donald Trump and his ban. Challenging this un-American policy in the courts and on Capitol Hill, together we’re determined more than ever to ensure that justice and equality ultimately prevail and transgender patriots are once again able to serve authentically.
Just like the far majority of Americans, we believe that what matters for military service is whether or not someone is qualified and able to accomplish the mission, not their gender identity or sexual orientation. We won the fight to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and we will also win this fight against Trump’s transgender military ban.
Stephen Peters is a Marine Corps veteran, spouse of a newly retired Marine, and the director of communications and marketing for the Modern Military Association of America.