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Rep. Joe Kennedy to Trans Service Members: You Deserve Respect

Congressman Joe Kennedy

Kennedy's resolution opposing Donald Trump's transgender military ban is expected to come to a vote in the U.S. House Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III wants to send a strong message to Donald Trump about his policy to ban trans people in the military, which is expected to come to a vote in the House of Representatives Thursday.

A nonbinding resolution will be introduced by the elected official on Thursday, and if the House approves, he tells The Advocate that, "it indicates to the administration and our colleagues in the Senate that there is strong rejection" of the ban.

Trans military members have shown their respect for the nation, the Massachusetts Democrat notes, adding, "Their commander in chief should be willing to pay them that respect in return."

Kennedy, who chairs the House's Transgender Equality Task Force, has been an outspoken critic of the ban ever since Trump announced it via Twitter in July 2017. He and more than 140 House colleagues sent a letter to the president opposing the ban the following month.

The congressman introduced his resolution in February, and he's also a cosponsor of a bill that would take binding action to block the ban. It hasn't been scheduled for hearings or a vote yet.

Both the resolution and the bill have a good chance of passage in the House, where Democrats won a majority in last year's election. One Republican, John Katko of New York, has signed on as a cosponsor of both.

The Republican-controlled Senate is more of a question mark, but Kennedy is optimistic that a strong vote on both in the House will send a signal to the other chamber -- and to the president.

Such signals are crucial now that legal barriers to implementation of the ban have fallen. Federal judges in four lawsuits challenging the ban had issued injunctions to keep it from going into effect while the cases are heard, but now all those injunctions have been removed, with the last one falling Wednesday.

Suits against the ban are still proceeding, but the Department of Defense intends to start discharging trans service members and denying enlistment to trans people as of April 12, unless they're willing to serve in the gender to which they were assigned at birth. Meaning an estimated 13,700 trans people will be kicked out of the military, out of an estimated 15,000 serving.

Kennedy has long been a champion of transgender rights and LGBTQ rights in general, in addition to other social justice causes.

He was particularly inspired by meeting with trans people and their families at Fenway Health in Boston four years ago and realizing that they cannot take for granted the freedoms that other Americans have. "Since that moment, these families became a top priority for me in Washington," he wrote in an Advocateop-ed last February.

Kennedy is a cosponsor of the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, credit, and numerous other venues.

He's also a lead sponsor of the Do No Harm Act, which would ensure that religious liberty could no longer be used as an excuse to discriminate against anyone based on their race, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

While those bills, like the efforts to block the transgender military ban, will likely have a harder time in the Senate than the House, Kennedy says there's no justification for waiting to deliver on the nation's promise of equal rights for all. "It's more than time to follow through on that promise," he says.

Another priority is health care -- right now, saving the Affordable Care Act, which the Trump administration has asked a federal court to strike down as unconstitutional, an action that would deprive an estimated 20 million Americans of health insurance.

LGBTQ people and other marginalized populations would likely suffer the most. "It's a no-holds-barred attempt to destroy health care," Kennedy says. House Democrats are introducing several bills to expand the ACA instead.

Amid all this, however, Kennedy says he intends to assure that transgender service members are not forgotten. "Every service member counts," he says.

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