I remember staring at the screen. Just staring at it. Rereading the words the president had tweeted – “we will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military” – as I tried to piece together what my life was going to look like now. In just three tweets, my military future had come crashing down.
Serving my country has been my dream for so long. Living in Yucca Valley, near the Marine Corps base at Twenty-Nine Palms, I have had the opportunity to talk to so many brave service members and to be inspired by their stories. I remember the first time a family friend of ours told us about his tour in Afghanistan. I hung on every word. He was doing one of the most important things you could do for our country, and he was so proud. I knew I wanted to be like him, and that I wanted to serve my country the same way.
In 2016, following extensive study by military experts, the Department of Defense announced that transgender service members could serve openly and transgender people would be eligible to enlist beginning the following year. I was thrilled. I knew that I could finally pursue my dream of joining the United States Air Force, to access training and educational opportunities I would never have otherwise, and, most importantly, to give back to the country from which I get so much. Right away, I started taking steps and making plans for my future enlistment.
But before that date arrived—in a few abrupt lines and seemingly without any reason at all—President Trump reversed the military’s decision. I felt sick—crushed, like someone had just pushed me to the ground. But I’m a fighter. And I know that I am just as capable of serving in the military as any of my peers.
I knew that I needed to find a way to stand up for myself and for my community, which is how I eventually became the “Stockman” in the Equality California lawsuit Stockman v. Trump challenging Trump’s ban.
In attempting to justify his ban, President Trump has called into question the physical and mental health of transgender people and our ability to serve. But transgender people have been serving honorably for years. By all estimates, thousands are currently doing so. The issues raised by Trump have no basis in facts or data. They play to public fears based on nothing other than stigma and prejudice.
There is nothing about being transgender that makes me—or the thousands of other patriotic transgender Americans who want to serve or are already serving right now— any less qualified. All any of us is asking is to be evaluated based on our own abilities. Shouldn’t anyone who meets the military’s already rigorous standards and is willing to put their life on the line for their country be not only able, but welcomed, to serve?
The state of California agrees with me and it has joined this fight, becoming a plaintiff alongside me in this case. The state of Washington, likewise, has joined another challenge to the transgender military ban originating there, Karnoski v. Trump. And the Attorneys General of fourteen other states have spoken out against the ban, submitting an amicus brief in yet another case, Doe v. Trump.
California has more LGBT people and more people in the military than any other state. It has a strong interest in supporting the LGBT community, as well as the strength of our military. When California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a motion to intervene in our case and become a plaintiff, he noted that Trump’s ban would hurt the California National Guard’s ability to recruit and retain members to protect our state’s natural resources. I live in California and my family all lives here, as well. Particularly after last year’s devastating wildfires, I know that we need every qualified person who is willing to serve.
We should not be turning capable people away just because they are transgender.
If I could say anything to President Trump, I would tell him that I am strong, I am capable, and I am ready to serve my country. And I am not alone. A recent Williams Institute study found that transgender Americans are twice as likely to have served or be serving in our nation’s military. Countless qualified transgender Americans are committed to serving: committed to doing the right thing for our country. President Trump, are you?