Days after the Supreme Court backed a Pentagon ban on transgender troops serving openly, an active-duty transgender sailor will appear as a guest of honor at President Donald Trump's State of the Union address in Washington, D.C.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Megan Winters will be the guest of Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Virginia, at the State of the Union on Feb. 5, according to a release from the congressman's office. Winters, 30, was a plaintiff in a lawsuit by the organizations Lambda Legal and Outserve-SLDN challenging the ban.

The policy approved by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last year was not the across-the-board prohibition proposed by Trump via Twitter in 2017, but would keep most openly transgender individuals from enlisting and limit the ability of currently serving transgender troops to come out and transition.

Winters, now assigned to the carrier George H.W. Bush in Norfolk, Virginia, is a constituent of McEachin's who has been vocal about her position, giving interviews to PBS and The Associated Press, among others, about her position.

"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 told the AP in January. "I recall how I felt the first time I put on the uniform. I genuinely wish that upon any American who wishes to serve."

In a release, McEachin said he wanted to recognize Winters for her service in the Navy and give more visibility to other transgender service members.

"As many as 15,000 transgender individuals currently serve in the U.S. military, and they deserve our utmost respect and gratitude," he said in a statement. "Unlike our current commander in chief, I will always support and defend the brave members of our military."

On Jan. 22, the Supreme Court released a 5-4 decision that it would not take up three cases challenging the proposed ban. Several lawsuits continue in lower courts, however. The Pentagon has yet to begin enforcing its transgender policy as one nationwide injunction against it remains effective, tied to an ongoing case in Maryland Federal District Court.

Winters told the AP she would abide by the Pentagon's transgender policy if enacted, but hoped for the opportunity to remain in uniform.

"I want to tell you I stand steadfast and hold my head up high, but it is a little difficult," she said in the interview. "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."

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a new bill that requires public schools to teach LGBT and disability-inclusive material.

According to CNN, the measure is modeled after a similar bill passed in California in 2011.

The measure requires that state boards of education must add instruction that accurately portrays “the political, economic, and social contributions of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, where appropriate.”

“LGBTQ+ history is part of our shared story, and students deserve to know it. Proud to sign a bill that makes New Jersey the second state in the nation to require an LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum in our schools,” Murphy said in a tweet.

“Young people are learning about LGBT people already in schools but their identities are hidden,” Christian Fuscarino told CNN. “Figures like Bayard Rustin, who was the right-hand man to Martin Luther King, Jr. for civil rights, was a gay man.”

Fuscarino is the executive director of Garden State Equality, which advocated for the bill over several assembly sessions.

The material will be included in the social studies curriculum for middle and high school students starting with the 2020-2021 school year.

The law will not effect private schools.

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.

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