Officials from the Trans United Fund, an advocacy working on behalf of transgender and gender-expansive individuals and their allies, and SPART*A, an organization for LGBT service members and veterans, on Aug. 10, convened an online discussion with numerous advocates to address President Donald Trump's threatened ban of transgender individuals from the military.
"The president obviously has a tremendous bully pulpit get his message out there, and his recent comments … have obviously had a tremendously powerful impact on folks in active service, reservists, veterans [and] those who are considering enlisting, as well as in the broader community," said Hayden Mora, Trans United's co-founder.
Laila Ireland, SPART*A's membership director, said that Trump's comments perpetuate a "destructive narrative" about transgender Americans.
"As long as [a ban] remains in place, people will be able to point to it and say, 'These people are sick,'" Ireland said. "…They will not be able to be seen as full citizens."
Activist Angelica Ross, who endured a brief but difficult stint in the military, acknowledged the importance of addressing Trump's ban, but urged some community members to continue squaring off on issues like transphobia and socio-political inequities experienced by transgender individuals. She further suggested that persons impacted both directly and indirectly by the ban reflect on their talents and how they can best contribute to their causes.
"One thing for all of us trans folks is to really take inventory of your capacity and your skills," she said. "So if you want to be there to fight on the ground, great. But also, there's a big misconception about the talent available in our community. … I feel like there's a big battle going on at home. I feel like we could use all hands on deck here at home."
Ireland noted an inherent difficulty facing the trans military personnel who are currently most in the crosshairsthey will be limited by how much they can publicly speak about the latest developments.
"What everyone has to understand is that, in the military, you're very limited in what you can and cannot say," she explained. "Your job is not to speculate or ridicule the policy, our president or people in Congress. Your job is to go to work, do the job, get it done, go home."
Another panelist reminded the advocates that the argument against a ban needs to be framed as much as possible without appealing to abstract discussions.
"Don't make it about 'fairness' and 'equality'; make it, 'How would you feel if the president ordered that you lose your job?" she said. "These are people with lives and families and children who depend on them for housing and medical care. … Those are fears that people understand. When you appeal to common values and common concerns, you make [many] more inroads with potential allies."
Ireland, a 12-year military veteran, noted the importance of maintaining diverse personnel in the military.
"Every person I worked with, and every person who was on my team, came from different backgrounds and [had] different identities," she said. "We needed those differences to move forward and become successful."