I was privileged on Friday night to share the stage with Representative John D. Dingell. He was being honored for his 50 years of service in the U.S. Congress. The event, An Evening of Recognition and Remembrance, was hosted by the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project (WRAP) and was held on Veteran's Day. Several of the speakers, including a Colonel in the Civil Air Patrol who is the local chapter president of the Servicemember's Legal Defense Network spoke about House Resolution 1059, calling for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I was asked to speak both as a veteran and as a reminder of the existence of transgender people and our unique issues related to serving in the military.
The event was nicely done. In addition to the Congressman, outgoing Chief of Police Dan Oates was there and recognized, and several members of Ann Arbor's city council were present as well as a couple of state legislators. My Girl came from work and joined me. It was such a thrill for me to have her there.
I was given 2 minutes to speak, so I said nothing profound; my objective was simply to raise awareness in the Congressman and the other guests about transgender people. The text of my brief talk is below the fold.
[Update] I had a nice talk with one of the other speakers prior to the event. Her daughter came out as a lesbian after completing her education at one of the service academies. Now, after discharging her from the service (under Don't Ask, Don't Tell) the government is demanding repayment of the education cost. It sure seems to me like we've got our priorities all mixed up.
I told her about my service in the Navy during that conversation, but she came up to me after the event to apologize that she had just assumed that women were allowed on submarines until she heard my talk. She hoped I wasn't offended that she did not initially realize that I was transsexual. I wasn't.
Thank you, Colonel.
I promise to be brief in my remarks – I think we can all agree that we’d rather listen to the Congressman than some middle aged transsexual law student! J
I really only have a couple of things that I’d like to say tonight.
First I think it’s entirely appropriate that we acknowledge a public servant who has served his constituency faithfully for half a century. Gee, Congressman, that means you were first elected the year I was born. After having spent the last two years with a group of 20 something law students, it’s a real pleasure to not be the oldest person in the room!
But, I am here because I represent a slice of America that many people either never hear about, or if they do, choose to ignore. I represent transgendered Americans. Often the only time people hear about us is when we’ve been brutally murdered. One week from Sunday marks the 7th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance – a day that we ourselves set aside to pay our respects to the men and women who were attacked and killed in the preceding 12 months based almost exclusively on the way they represent their gender.
And, more to the point on this Veteran’s Day, I represent the thousands of transgendered individuals who served their country in the armed forces despite the constant fear of discovery and swift reprisal. I, myself served – deep in the closet – aboard a United States Submarine during the Vietnam Conflict. I carried a top secret clearance. And, I represent the tens of thousands of transgendered individuals who were either denied their chance to serve or were summarily discharged on mental health grounds because of their transgender status.
I know, personally, more than a handful of transgender veterans. One was a tail gunner in a helicopter in Vietnam. Another served aboard nuclear submarines (unlike me, who served on the last WWII class diesel in the fleet), and yet another who was paratrooper in the 101st Airborne. And, I could rattle off many more. Mildred Brown a clinical psychologist says in her book, True Selves, that "Over half of my male patients served in one of the branches of the military."
And, I represent those service members, such as Angel, who are in uniform now. She is a major in the Air Force and is currently in Iraq.
I know, Congressman Dingell, that wherever you go people are asking you to listen to them and to represent them and do something for them. Tonight, I am no different. I ask you first to acknowledge the existence and plight of people like me – transgender Americans – first by joining the ranks of congressmen that have signed a non-discrimination policy that incorporates gender identity or expression and then I ask that you consider an amendment to HR 1059 that also protects us.
Again, my heartfelt thanks for and congratulations on your extraordinary service.