State of the Union: Five lawmakers invite transgender service members

Members of Congress and their guests will draw attention to President Donald Trump’s trans military ban.
Image: Blake Dremann
Blake DremannShako Liu
By Tim Fitzsimons

At least five Democratic members of Congress announced they will bring transgender service members or veterans to Tuesday’s State of the Union address to draw attention to President Donald Trump’s transgender military ban.

Rep. Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, one of 10 openly LGBTQ members of Congress, told NBC News on Monday that his guest will be Tavion Dignard, who served in the Navy from 1998 to 2002.

The other lawmakers who made similar announcements are Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Jackie Speier California, A. Donald McEachin of Virginia and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.

“I’m honored that a transgender veteran from New Hampshire will be accompanying me to the State of the Union,” Pappas said. The transgender military ban is “un-American” and “would prevent qualified people such as Tavion from serving our country,” he added.

“As lawmakers, it's our job to hold the Trump administration accountable for its discriminatory policies,” Pappas added. “Denying transgender Americans their right to serve this country is a disgrace. They deserve equal treatment by their government and the law.”

Dignard, one of the country’s estimated 153,000 transgender veterans or active-duty service members, said being denied the opportunity to come out as trans while serving in the military “put up absurd discriminatory barriers and created serious trauma” in his life.

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“No transgender service member should have to suffer through uncertainty about the acceptability of their identity or feel pushed out of their job for expressing who they are,” Dignard said in a statement shared with NBC News.

Gillibrand, who last month announced she’s considering a 2020 presidential bid, said she will bring Navy Lt. Comdr. Blake Dremann as her guest to the State of the Union.

“Lt. Cmdr. Dremann is a proud member of the U.S. Navy, he is a loyal patriot who has devoted his career to serving and protecting our country, and he is also one of the thousands of transgender service members serving in our military with honor and distinction,” Gillibrand said in a statement shared with NBC News. “Transgender service members like Lt. Cmdr. Dremann make extraordinary sacrifices every day to defend our freedom and our most sacred values, and President Trump’s decision to ban them from military service is cruel and undermines our military readiness.”

Gillibrand, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also announced she would be introducing legislation this week to “protect current and future transgender service members.”

“Any transgender American who meets the standards should be able to sign up to join our armed forces,” she stated. “I am proud to lead this fight and I urge all of my Senate colleagues to join me in supporting this legislation.”

Speier announced she would bring Air Force Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland as her guest. “He’s proof that our #trans troops make us stronger!,” she wrote on Twitter.

McEachin, who represents southeastern Virginia’s 4th District, announced Monday that he invited U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Megan Winters as his guest. Winters is one of the plaintiffs in Karnoski v. Trump, one of the four federal lawsuits challenging the transgender military ban.

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

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced Tuesday that she will bring two active-duty transgender members of the Army, Capt. Jennifer Peace and Maj. Ian Brown, Trump’s State of the Union address.

“I think it’s important to raise visibility and get people to realize that by excluding trans service members, we are directly weakening our military and national security,” Capt. Peace told NBC News Tuesday morning, noting that the military missed its recruiting goals last year by roughly 7,000 recruits.

Trump first announced his transgender military ban in a July 2017 tweet. In the social media post, Trump said he would end a policy, begun during the administration of President Barack Obama, that allows transgender men and women to serve openly.

The ban is the subject of several federal lawsuits, and only last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could allow the government to enforce the ban while challenges to the policy play out in the lower courts.

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Brooke Sopelsa contributed.