This weekend, Americans will be celebrating U.S. independence and one of our country’s founding principles: freedom—something that our veterans and active-duty service members have given their lives to defend.
The celebration this year will be especially sweet for transgender veterans, who just this week won the freedom to serve openly in the military as the gender they know themselves to be. After Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed in 2010, policies that prohibited transgender people from serving were kept in place. But that changed Friday when Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the Pentagon would be lifting the ban on transgender service.
In an op-ed published this weekend in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, two local transgender veterans spoke out about the experience of serving as a transgender person, how they felt when they heard the news that the military ban had been lifted, and what it means that, even though they can now serve openly, laws in their home state of Georgia still do not afford them equal rights.
“Our military is finally shedding its discriminatory policies that prevent transgender service members from living as their authentic selves. This is a historic step forward—but we still have much work to do on the home front,” read the op-ed.
“I protected this country when I served on submarines, but when I returned home, the culture and legislative landscape full of discriminatory bills targeting me for unfair treatment and harm—just for being trans. I deserve protections, too.” -Monica Helms, veteran of the U.S. Navy
The military often leads America on LGBT inclusion. The discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell affecting gay, lesbian and bisexual service members was repealed by a bipartisan majority in Congress—and key source of support was Defense Department leaders themselves, who argued that open service was necessary for morale and to enlistment robust in the future.
Those were the same arguments that led to this week’s action on transgender service.
The military may be moving forward on LGBT issues again, but local transgender veterans agree much more must be done to ensure transgender service members are not subjected to discrimination when they come home. That means updating state and national laws.
We spoke to Monica Helms, a Navy veteran and co-author of Friday’s op-ed, about why she joined the military and why she’s asking her fellow countrymen to protect her now: “I come from a long line of military veterans, including my grandfather, my father, all of my uncles, an aunt, my brother, his son and my son, so the 4th of July has a deep meaning for me and my family. I protected this country when I served on submarines, but when I returned home, the culture and legislative landscape full of discriminatory bills targeting me for unfair treatment and harm—just for being trans. I deserve protections, too.”
The lack of state and national protections for transgender people runs counter to the very values of freedom and equal treatment under the law that our countrymen and women fight for when they volunteer to serve in the armed forces. It is unconscionable that those who have risked their lives to protect our country and uphold our freedoms lack protections in their own home states, including Georgia. Even worse is the thought that some in Georgia are instead toying with the idea of “toxic bills that belittle and dehumanize” as they attempt to codify discrimination into Georgia law instead of moving in the right direction.
In speaking to Dana Fuchko, co-author of the AJC op-ed and a veteran of the National Guard, she says she is proud of her military service and would do it over again in a heartbeat—but now it’s time to bring the fight for freedom to her home state of Georgia: “Each of us volunteered to serve our nation because we believe in our country’s founding values. We believe strongly in not only protecting our country, but in making it even better. And we’re standing up for those values once again, by drawing attention to legislative inequalities that harm so many here in Georgia and across the nation.”
It’s way past time Georgia and the rest of the country got serious about enacting comprehensive non-discrimination protections that protect veterans and all transgender Georgians from losing their jobs, being kicked out of their apartments, or denied service in a public place.
Service members sacrifice so much to protect the basic freedoms we hold dear—the least we can do is ensure they have access to those basic freedoms, too.SHARE THIS STORY