Rep. Susan Davis on pressing trans military issues

Rep. Susan Davis on pressing trans military issues

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Washington, DC, August 21, 2014 | By Autumn Sandeen for LGBT Weekly | comments

Where do our congresspeople stand on open military service for trans people?

For background regarding trans military service members, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell(DADT) was enshrined into law in 1993. The military services could no longer legally ask a recruit whether he or she was a homosexual, nor could they legally ask whether a then current servicemember was gay, lesbian or bisexual – the “Don’t Ask” part of DADT. However, being lesbian, gay or bisexual was still a reason to discharge servicemembers, so the legislative policy was one of LGB servicemembers having to stay silent about their sexual orientation – the “Don’t Tell” part of DADT.

After 17 years, the law was repealed, and in 2011 gay, lesbian and bisexual servicemembers could not only legally serve in the U.S. military, but could serve openly.

Yet, the enactment of and the repeal of DADT had no impact whatsoever on trans people being able to serve. Trans people can’t serve openly in the U.S. military services because Department of Defense (DoD) regulations state trans people can’t. When asked in May of this year about this regulatory policy, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stated, “I do think it continually should be reviewed.”

“I’m open to those assessments, because – again, I go back to the bottom line – every qualified American who wants to serve our country should have an opportunity if they fit the qualifications and can do it,” Hagel continued.

So, I asked Rep. Susan Davis where she stands on open service for trans people.

“Transgender individuals should not be denied the opportunity to serve in our nation’s military solely on the basis of their gender identity,” she stated. “As with the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Department of Defense will need to make personnel policy adjustments. It makes sense for the DOD leaders to review the entirety of this matter.”

Davis continued by stating, “A key component of this issue is to ensure workplace protections for transgender individuals. America must continually strive to advance equality for all of its citizens. In keeping with that, Congress needs to pass ENDA with strong transgender protections. We, as a country, should be well beyond using traits, characteristics or gender to qualify individuals for employment; if your job performance makes you the most qualified for employment, then you should be allowed to do the job.”

It matters where Rep. Davis stands on this. She currently is the ranking member on the Military Personnel Subcommittee, and in 2008, when she was the chair of that subcommittee, convened the first Congressional hearing on the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. When repeal of DADT was signed into law, Rep. Davis was one of five members of Congress on that stage that President Obama thanked for their leadership in working the repeal bill through Congress.

I also remember in 2007 when the House was debating ENDA that Rep. Davis stood on the House floor, and expressed strong disappointment that the 2007 version of the bill didn’t include protections based on gender identity. She cited San Diego architect Vicki Estrada, a transgender business woman who almost lost a California state contract because she’s transgender. Estrada didn’t lose the contract because of California civil rights protections; Rep. Davis cited Estrada and the California protections as reasons why employment protections based on gender identity should have remained in the 2007 ENDA bill.

Rep. Davis didn’t respond to the second question I posed: where does she stand on transgender veterans being able to change their DD214s – military discharge papers – to reflect their new names. Right now, trans veterans who want to claim their service histories prior to transition must out themselves in the employment vetting process, and many in the trans community believe this inability to update their DD214 impacts their ability to obtain employment.

Knowing that Rep. Davis, a significant force behind the repeal of DADT, stands on the side of open trans military service is important. I can’t name another representative who’s taken a position on open trans military service.

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