To the editor: I remember back in the 1990s, a display was put up celebrating members of and bringing light to the LGBTQ community. This was put up at the library. There was an uproar from some Fairbanks residents, which led to a protest to take the display down. I attended a peaceful counter-protest at the same time. I was 16. This was my first time hearing the hatred for the LGBTQ community. I was floored. I had never seen such hatred toward other human beings simply for them having a different sexual preference or gender identity.

 

I’m writing this letter today to show my support for Ordinance No. 6093. I’m doing it because of what I saw all those years ago. I believe people should not be discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity. I’m here today as one human being supporting other human beings in their endeavor to simply live their lives, to help ensure they are protected from discrimination like the kind I saw when I was a teen and have seen many times since. We already have ordinances like this; they have been proven to work in Juneau and Sitka. I would like to see it here as well.

Long term, lawyers and activists battling to ensure that transgender people can serve openly in the U.S. military are convinced they will prevail. Short term, they are braced for anguishing consequences if the Trump administration proceeds with its plan to sharply restrict such service.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote Tuesday, gave the administration the green light to put the policy into effect even as legal challenges continue.

"I'm absolutely optimistic with respect to the long-term prospects," said Sharon McGowan, legal director of the LGBT rights group Lambda Legal, which is pressing one of the lawsuits. "The question is: How long is the long term?"

McGowan and other activists see parallels between the battle and the 17-year saga involving the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prohibited gay men and women from serving openly in the armed forces. After prolonged controversy and litigation — as well as the discharge of more than 13,000 military personnel — Congress repealed the Clinton-era policy in 2010, and gay service members were able to serve openly beginning in 2011.

LGBT rights activist Andy Blevins, who served in the Navy from 2007 to 2011, said he underwent three investigations related to "don't ask" before he was finally discharged on medical grounds. He is now executive director of OutServe-SLDN, which represents LGBT personnel in the military and is engaged in the litigation against the Trump plan.

Blevins grows emotional in describing the “daily struggle” to keep his sexual orientation a secret before repeal of “don’t ask,” yet he suggested that currently serving transgender people face even tougher circumstances. They were told in 2016, in the waning months of the Obama administration, that they would be able to serve openly, then were jolted in 2017 when President Donald Trump tweeted his intention to ban all transgender people from the military.

"They were told it's OK to be transgender ... then the rug is pulled out from under these dedicated service members," Blevins said.

Yet he said activists have made major progress in convincing politicians and the public that the Trump plan is based on misinformation and prejudice.

"We have optimism that we're going to win the war," he said. "This is just a setback, a speed bump."

OutServe-SLDN’s legal director, Peter Perkowski, is teaming with Lambda Legal lawyers on one of four lawsuits challenging Trump’s plan. Though he shares Blevins' long-term optimism, he is wary of the outcome if any of the lawsuits reach the Supreme Court, now with a solidified conservative majority thanks to the addition of Trump appointees Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

"There's a certain segment of the court that's kind of hostile to our issues in the LGBTQ community," Perkowski said. "Beyond that, I don't make any predictions."

Meanwhile, Perkowski said, transgender people seeking to enlist are frustrated by legal uncertainties, while currently serving trans personnel are worried about their job security.

"They just want to continue to do their jobs without this cloud hanging over them, without being tagged as inadequate," he said.

Among those active-duty trans service members is Megan Winters, 30, a plaintiff in the Lambda-Outserve lawsuit who has been in the Navy almost six years. She formerly served with the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington and now is assigned to the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush, based in Norfolk, Virginia.

"I do my job to the best of my ability every single day and will do that as long as I'm able to," she said in a telephone interview. "I recall how I felt the first time I put on the uniform. I genuinely wish that upon any American who wishes to serve."

Asked if Tuesday's Supreme Court vote made her apprehensive, Winters paused before saying it was hard to answer.

"I want to tell you I stand steadfast and hold my head up high — but it is a little difficult," she said. "The president of the United States is my commander in chief. If they called for the end of transgender service, if it's a lawful order I would have to obey it. But I truly want to continue serving my country."

According to a report issued by the Pentagon last year, there were 8,980 service members who identify as transgender.

Details of how the Trump plan might be implemented remain unclear; some currently serving trans personnel — perhaps including Winters — might be able to remain in the military. However, the court vote clears the way for the Pentagon to bar enlistment by people who have undergone a gender transition. It also would allow the administration to require that military personnel serve in accordance with their biological gender unless they began a gender transition under the Obama-era rules.

Activists doubt the current Republican-controlled Senate would move to block the transgender ban. And it would face a potential Trump veto if it did so.

However, Aaron Belkin of the California-based Palm Center, which studies LGBT-related military issues, said public opinion now favors transgender military service, and added, "The Democrats will reinstate an inclusive policy on the first day they're back in power."

Supporters of Trump's efforts include Tony Perkins, a Marine veteran who is president of the conservative Family Research Council. He says the courts should not interfere with the ability of the U.S. president as commander in chief to set military policy.

"The Pentagon isn't in the business of equality," Perkins said recently. "Either the military's priority is protecting America — or it's helping people on the path to self-actualization. It can't do both."

But Lambda Legal's McGowan said top military commanders have said there were minimal problems related to the Obama administration's moves to allow transgender service. The Trump policy, she said, "has nothing to do with national security or unit cohesion — it's about throwing red meat to a portion of Trump's political base."

McGowan evoked Katie Schmid, a South Korea-based Army staff sergeant who is a plaintiff in Lambda's lawsuit.

"They're telling Katie, you're unfit to die for this country," McGowan said. "I can't think of a more offensive thing to say to someone willing to put their life on the line."

For LGBT rights leaders, Trump’s proposed ban is only one of several attacks on transgender Americans. They also cite a Justice Department memo concluding that civil rights laws don’t protect transgender people from workplace discrimination and the scrapping of Obama-era guidance encouraging school officials to let transgender students use bathrooms of their choice.

Hours after the Supreme Court gave the green light to President Donald Trump's transgender military ban, Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King was not ready to give up hope.

The ban "gives a false sense of credibility to the inaccurate notion that transgender people are somehow less or less capable than our peers," King told CNN's Brooke Baldwin.
 
King has served in the military for 20 years, but it was not until recently that she was able to serve openly as a transgender woman.
"Transgender people have been serving in the military for as long as the United States has had a military," King said. "We've done it in silence."
 
"The problem is that this (ban) stops trans people from being able to bring their best self to work because they're holding something back."
The policy, first announced by the President in July 2017 via Twitter, and later officially releasedby then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis in 2018, blocks individuals who have been diagnosed with a condition known as gender dysphoria from serving with limited exceptions. It also specifies that individuals without the condition can serve, but only if they do so according to the sex they were assigned at birth.
Transgender troops: 'We're not burdens'
 
 
In a statement released after the Supreme Court action, the Pentagon sought to clarify that its policy is not a ban on all transgender persons from the military.
 
"As always, we treat all transgender persons with respect and dignity. (The Department of Defense's) proposed policy is NOT a ban on service by transgender persons. It is critical that DoD be permitted to implement personnel policies that it determines are necessary to ensure the most lethal and combat effective fighting force in the world. DoD's proposed policy is based on professional military judgment and will ensure that the U.S. Armed Forces remain the most lethal and combat effective fighting force in the world," Lt. Col. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokesperson, told CNN.
 
The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that more than 15,000 transgender people are serving in the military, some openly, some not.
For King, the policy contradicts a key element in the military.
"It undermines that meritocracy we're supposed to have in the military where we're evaluated based on what we bring to the table and not who we are," she said.
Tuesday's ruling will certainly affect all transgender service members in some capacity, King said, but it doesn't feel like a defeat.
"Implementing a ban again will not stop Americans from wanting to go serve their country, and some of those Americans happen to be transgender," King said.

The Supreme Court allowed President Donald Trump's transgender military ban to go into effect on Tuesday, dealing a blow to LGBT activists who call the ban cruel and irrational.

The Justices did not rule on the merits of the case, but will allow the ban to go forward while the lower courts work through it.
The four liberal justices on the Court objected to allowing the administration's policy banning most transgender people from serving in the military to go into effect.
The policy, first announced by the President in July 2017 via Twitter, and later officially released by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis in 2018, blocks individuals who have been diagnosed with a condition known as gender dysphoria from serving with limited exceptions. It also specifies that individuals without the condition can serve, but only if they do so according to the sex they were assigned at birth.
 
In a statement released after the SCOTUS decision to allow the ban to go forward, the Pentagon sought to clarify that its policy is not a ban on all transgender persons from the military.
"As always, we treat all transgender persons with respect and dignity. DoD's proposed policy is NOT a ban on service by transgender persons. It is critical that DoD be permitted to implement personnel policies that it determines are necessary to ensure the most lethal and combat effective fighting force in the world. DoD's proposed policy is based on professional military judgment and will ensure that the U.S. Armed Forces remain the most lethal and combat effective fighting force in the world," Lt. Col. Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokesperson, told CNN.
The court's move is a victory for the Trump administration. While government lawyers wanted the Court to take up the case, they also fought to allow the ban to go into effect while the case plays out in the lower courts.
"Today's dual rulings on the transgender ban allow the controversial policy to go into effect for now, but also allow the appeals to go forward in the lower courts," said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analysis and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law.
"The government had asked the Justices to take the issue up even before the appeals courts could rule. Even though the Court denied that request, the fact that the Court is allowing the policy to go into effect suggests not only that it will eventually take the case on the merits, but also that five of the Justices believe the government is likely to prevail if and when that happens," Vladeck said.
In July 2017, Trump surprised military leaders by tweeting, "After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military," Trump said. "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."
His tweets came less than a month into the six-month delay set by Mattis to review the US military's policy on transgender service members.
The Pentagon was forced to allow transgender applicants to join the military on January 1, 2018, after a federal judge ruled that the military had to allow transgender recruits to join.
By the government's own numbers in 2016, there were approximately 8,980 Service members that identify as transgender. During the Obama administration, 937 members were diagnosed with gender dysphoria and began or completed their transition.
In December, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to allow the ban on transgender people in the military to go into effect pending appeal after the lower courts froze the ban.
When the administration first asked the high court to take up the case last month, Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued that lower court rulings imposing nationwide injunctions are wrong and warrant immediate review.
The petitions he filed asked the justices to take up the issue in three separate cases that are still in lower courts so it could be decided definitively this term.
He wrote that because of the injunctions, "the military has been forced to maintain that prior policy for nearly a year" despite a determination by Mattis and a panel of experts that the "prior policy, adopted by (Defense Secretary Ash Carter), posed too great a risk to military effectiveness and lethality."
Under normal circumstances, the Supreme Court does not like to take up an issue before it has made its way through the lower courts. The justices like to have issues percolate below so that they can benefit from the opinions of lower court judges.
Francisco has moved aggressively at times to get cases before a Supreme Court that is more solidly conservative with the addition of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In one such case, Francisco recently asked the court for emergency help to let the administration's asylum ban go into effect.

Sources say at least 28 transgender people were killed in US last year

The Transgender Awareness Project says there's a crisis in their community.

 A new report released by the Human Rights Campaign says at least 28 transgender people were killed in the United States in 2018.

Three of the 28 were in Jacksonville. All were shot to death. A fourth victim was shot but survived.

In all, there were five transgender killings in Florida in 2018.

Paige Mahogany Parks is a part of a local group here in Jacksonville called the Transgender Awareness Project.

"I’m not surprised to hear these numbers because we have no one fighting for us," Parks said.

All but one of the victims in 2018 were trans women, and all except one were a minority. 

"That makes me feel there is a target on my back," Parks said. 

She said she feels police should be doing more about the crimes.

"They are not doing enough. They are not doing anything. The Sheriff’s (Office) here in Jacksonville is like, 'OK, another transgender woman is being beaten or murdered. OK, let’s sweep it under the rug,"' said Parks.

Following the attacks in Jacksonville, Sheriff Mike Williams appointed a board of officers to work as liaisons between police and the LGBTQ community.

Parks said it’s impossible to know an exact count of killings because, at times, police and family do not name the victims as transgender.

It was the second year in a row that more than two dozen members of the transgender community were killed in the U.S.

2017 was the deadliest year, with at least 29 killed.

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