“They Are The Same”
I have family and friends in the military who have served from Vietnam to the Gulf War all the way to the Iraq War. I myself almost enlisted in 2003: when the recruiting officer came to speak to me I happened to not be home yet and he encountered an immigrant mother that felt it was her sworn duty to prevent me from dying for a country that, had afforded me multiple opportunities, still treated people that looked like us like second-hand citizens at times. “My son is worth more than a flag”, she said. I was upset, clearly, because I wanted to enlist but I was very much a pushover at 18 years old. I was a pushover for things I was not very sure I wanted in the first place, to be honest. I later found out that I had health issues that would have disqualified me as is, but I have always felt a profound respect for the men and women who serve in the military. Part of that was driven by my inability to serve in that capacity.
My friends enlisted though, their parents be damned. Black friends, white friends, Latino friends, Asian friends? They all enlisted, because we had all witnessed two planes go into the World Trade Center three and a half miles from our high school. We saw the smoke, the debris, and we all remembered how hard it was to see our friends crying because their parents had not come to pick them up by the time we were dismissed. That assault on what we all held dear, even for a country that had not treated our relatives equally throughout its history, motivated a lot of us. Even if she was not perfect, we had to defend her. You know who did not get to enlist? Our LGBTQ friends, who had as much reason to feel marginalized as we did. For every Emmett Till, there was a Matthew Sheppard and a Alphonza Watson would follow shortly thereafter. And yet they expressed dismay at their exclusion, because while she was not perfect they felt they should have the ability to defend her.
That all changed over the last six years, with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2011, and the announcement in 2016 that qualified United States service members could not be discharged, denied reenlistment, involuntarily separated, or denied continuation of service because of being transgender. Kathy Miller once said that the path of progress never take a straight line: it has always been a zigzag as you try to maneuver around the conflicting forces of right and wrong, truth and error, justice and injustice, and cruelty and mercy. We celebrate progress because of how damn hard it was to actually get to the finish line. This does not mean we stop fighting: blacks have not stopped fighting, jews have not stopped fighting, LGBTQs have not stopped fighting. We have all fought on the front lines or in direct service or in public service, and we fight for a better America for everyone. From the kid in Princeton, New Jersey who is struggling to find seasonal work to help him pay his tuition to the county working immigrant mother and father in Fairfax County, Virginia that came to this country and have paid taxes and contributed positively to society only to have to explain to their grandchildren that they need to toe the line just a little bit more because of what they look like. Life is hard, but I do not how to explain to you that you should care about other people. This would all be easier if some of you cared more.
In this past election, we had a choice between a man lacking any political experience who also happened to be a bigot and an alleged rapist and a qualified, albeit flawed, woman that had made some pretty public mistakes. That was the choice, and it was not something that needed to be looked at any further than that. Political parties do not matter, because as a functioning adult I would imagine you are able to make decisions outside of some outdated ideology. A friend of mine, from a family of Republicans, told me that at some point you realize how easy all of this is if you just respect each other. I chose to vote for the candidate that would respect me and those around me, and who I felt would not do damage to the progress we have zigzagged for. That was the choice, even as people continued to say that they were the same. There is no difference, they kept repeating. They continue repeating it, as if to absolve themselves of their role in how we got to this point. Almost six months to the day from the inauguration, and anything that has President Obama’s name on it is being attacked with a sledgehammer all while the evidence mounts to some sort of coordination between the current *President’s campaign and a foreign entity that has been an enemy of the United States for as long as I can remember. An enemy that our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, all 15,500 of them, took an oath to protect us from. Foreign and domestic, they swore, and they are out there even as we type this. I can type this from my office because they are out there fighting every day.
Or, they were, until the *President decided today that the 2.4 million dollars spent to provide medical coverage for soldiers that are transgender is too much of a disruption. A disruption, huh? 2.4 million dollars is too much of a disruption, but the almost 900 million dollars spent by Veterans Affairs to treat sexual assault victims in 2010 is not? I guess it is silly of me to expect a person that just last night called immigrants animals to actually stand by a marginalized community. I don’t know, I guess my expectation for him in regards to quite possibly his first statement about transgender folk would be something like this:
“We’ve got to address the crisis of transphobic violence. 2015 has seen the murder of at least 19 transgender women, primarily women of color. And nobody knows how much violence goes unreported or ignored. And we need to say, with one voice, that transgender people are valued, they are loved, they are us, they desire to be treated fairly and equally.” If him and Hillary Clinton are the same, that is what he would have said. That is what she said. I wish you all were right that they were the same, but every day you should realize that they absolutely unequivocally are not. I will not hold my breath; by the time you do, I wonder how many of us will be left to speak up for you.