Michaela Jae Rodriguez
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Congress Members to Bring Trans Troops to State of the Union

McEachin and Gillibrand and their guests

Five Democratic members of Congress will bring transgende rmilitary members to this year’s State of the Union address as a rebuke to Donald Trump's efforts to ban trans people from military service.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Reps. A. Donald McEachin, Chris Pappas, and Jackie Speier made announcements Monday morning. Each will be bringing one guest. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have two transgender service members as guests, OutServe-SLDN announced Tuesday.

Gillibrand, who is readying new legislation to protect transgender service members before Trump’s ban can take effect, says she chose to have Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann as her guest for the Tuesday speech because she believes he will serve an inspiration. 

“Transgender service members like Lieutenant Commander Dremann make extraordinary sacrifices every day to defend our freedom and our most sacred values, and President Trump’s decision to ban them from military service is cruel and undermines our military readiness,” the Democratic senator from New York said Monday morning. 

“Any transgender American who meets the standards should be able to sign up to join our Armed Forces, and that’s why I’m going to introduce new legislation this week to protect current and future transgender service members.”

Dremann, who also serves as the president of SPARTA, an organization that advocates for over 800 transgender military members, and the other guests will be the first trans service members to attend SOTU as guests of an elected official. Dremann said he sees this moment as vital tor service members like himself currently facing an uncertain future. 

 

“My goals are to bring a personal face to being transgender in the military,” Dremann told The Advocate moments after the announcement. “We are serving with honor, courage, and commitment to a cause greater than ourselves.” 

“And we will continue to do so,” he added. 

McEachin, a Democrat from Virginia, also spoke out strongly against the ban and on behalf of his guest, Navy Petty Officer Second Class Megan Winters.

“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 press release this morning. “Unlike our current commander in chief, I will always support and defend the brave members of our military.”

Winters has served in the Navy for nearly six years. She is a plaintiff in Karnoski v. Trump, a case brought by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN to challenge the ban.

Pappas, a newly elected House member from New Hampshire who is gay, said his guest will be Tavion Dignard, who served in the Navy from 1998 to 2002, NBC News reports.

“As lawmakers, it's our job to hold the Trump administration accountable for its discriminatory policies,” Pappas told NBC. “Denying transgender Americans their right to serve this country is a disgrace. They deserve equal treatment by their government and the law.”

Speier, from California, is bringing Air Force Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland as her guest, according to NBC. “He’s proof that our #trans troops make us stronger!” she wrote on Twitter.

Pelosi, also a California representative, will be accompanied by Army Maj, Ian Brown and Army Capt, Jennifer Peace. “I am humbled that more than 15,000 selfless, transgender patriots will be represented on the House floor during the State of the Union Address, thanks to the invitations from several members of Congress,” OutServe-SLDN executive director Andy Blevins said in a press release. “Through their invitations, these legislators are reminding our nation of an important fact that our commander-in-chief seems to have forgotten—our nation’s armed forces are not better despite open transgender military service, they are better because of their open and authentic service.”

The announcements come a few weeks after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to allow Trump’s ban on trans service members to go into effect while lawsuits against it are heard in lower courts. 

Gillibrand, who led the successful bipartisan effort to repeal the military’s discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, will introduce her new legislation to protect troops later this week. The bill aims to prohibit the Department of Defense from kicking out members of the military solely because of gender identity and prevent the department from blocking transgender Americans from signing up to join the Armed Forces. 

Gillibrand has historically focused on transgender military issues. The senator introduced bipartisan legislation with the late Republican Sen. John McCain in the previous session of Congress to defend transgender troops. This new legislation is a continuation of these efforts. The other lawmakers are likewise strong opponents of the ban.

"The military is the largest employer in the nation and, as the [U.S. Transgender Survey] found, transgender people are twice as likely to have served in the Armed Forces as the general population,” Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager for the National Center for Transgender Equality, told The Advocate. 

An estimated 13,763 transgender service members face dismissal if Trump’s ban goes into full effect. 

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