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    Prepare for Battle, President Trump

    Prepare for Battle, Mr. Trump

    –By Felicia “Flames” Elizondo–

    Dear Mr. Trump,

    As I’m a 71-year-old transgender, HIV-positive Mexican-American woman living in San Francisco, it probably won’t surprise you to know that I voted for your opponent in the November election. In fact, you can count me among the “Not My President” battalion here in the Bay Area, where The Resistance is strong.

    Just last summer, during Pride 2016, you tweeted, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”

    Like most of the promises you made on the campaign trail, you broke this one as soon as it proved convenient.

    In a mere six months in office, you have threatened to remove questions about sexual orientation and gender identity from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants, pulled back protections for transgender kids in public schools, appointed an anti-LGBT Supreme Court justice, and neglected to recognize Pride Month. (Recently), your Department of Justice argued that antigay discrimination is legal under federal law, and you announced a ban on transgender troops, via Twitter, on the 69th anniversary of the desegregation of the U.S. military.

    Now it’s personal—not just to who I am and to my community, but to the service I have given to our country.

    You see, I love my country with all my heart. I also love my mother, and as a closeted young gay man named Felipe, I wanted nothing more than to make her proud, and to fight for my country. So, in 1965, I enlisted in the Navy.

    I didn’t want to be gay. I didn’t know how to be a woman, and I thought the military would teach me to “be a man.” I served a year in Vietnam, and when I told the Navy priest I was gay, I was placed in solitary confinement and further punished with a dishonorable discharge to San Francisco. I did not settle for what I felt was an unfair assessment, and fought to have the ruling overturned. My military record now reflects that I was honorably discharged.  

    Life in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district was difficult, as I struggled to find myself in a world that outlawed my very being. Of course, no one would hire a sissy like me, so like many of us who had been cast out by the world, I turned to prostitution—and the abuse that came with it. It was the only way I could survive.

    But survive I did, and I realized my courage had only begun in the military. I was just getting started.

    I built a family from fellow queens and sissies who gathered in the Tenderloin, and was a regular at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, an unofficial gay space at the time and the scene of the cafeteria riots that broke out in August 1966. A police officer tried to arrest one of us for cross-dressing—which was illegal at the time—and she threw her hot coffee in his face. This ignited two nights of fierce resistance from us “Screaming Queens,” including flying dishes and furniture, smashed windows, a vandalized police car, and a torched newsstand. We were tired of being harassed and heckled just for being ourselves. And while our uprising didn’t make the news the way the Stonewall riots did a few years later, it did serve as a catalyst for change, eventually culminating in the 1968 creation of the National Transsexual Counseling Unit.

    I survived being kicked out of the military, lived through society’s attempts to outlaw me, and outlasted the AIDS epidemic. Despite being HIV-positive for more than 20 years, I’m still here. And I’m still fighting.

    So, I have some advice for you, Mr. Trump. While your promises are proving to be worthless, I am a woman of my word. And I promise you that I will not only survive your attack: I will also thrive. Because you have reignited a flame inside me, my fellow transgender veterans and soldiers, and our LGBTQ allies. You have even sparked support for us from some unlikely new allies, including Orrin Hatch and John McCain.

    As a transgender veteran who fought for freedom, I refuse to be sacrificed as a pawn in your culture war, because—as you can see from the more than 15,000 transgender troops currently serving honorably in the military—we’ve already won that fight. Our pride will not be banned, and our service to this country will not be forgotten or forbidden. Your ban will not stop transgender troops from serving this great country. Instead, your bigotry will fan the flames burning inside us.

    Having survived rejection, riots, and the AIDS epidemic, this army of LGBTQ veterans, elders, and allies is ready to rumble. We are proud of our service to our country, and we are committed to finishing the fight for equality. You are playing with fire, Mr. Trump, and unlike the brave transgender soldiers and veterans who sacrifice daily for our country, you have never been to war. I suggest you prepare for battle, because we don’t back down.

    Warmly,

    Felicia “Flames” Elizondo
    San Francisco


     

    Transgender Veterans and Service Members ‘Should Be Treated as the Patriots They Are’

    An estimated 15,000 active-duty, guard and reserve American transgender soldiers received cruel and sudden notice on July 26 that their commander-in-chief viewed them as burdensome and unacceptable. President Trump, through his personal twitter account, wrote:

    “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you”

    These words come from an individual who received five draft deferments during the Vietnam War: four because Trump was a college student, and one due to bad feet (bone spurs in his heels). Despite such a background, Trump repeatedly made pro-military statements on the presidential campaign trail as he disparaged others, such as Muslims. On December 7, 2015, he even said: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” It is little wonder that Khizr Khan, the Muslim American father of a soldier killed in Iraq, welled up with emotion during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Referring to Trump’s lack of military service, Khan said: “You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”

    The President, however, now appears to be sacrificing transgender service members, and the transgender community as a whole, for personal political gains. His tweets about the military ban are not policy, at least not yet, but they have helped to divert attention away from other issues that his administration would rather not tackle, such as the ongoing Russia probe.

    As you can see in this issue of the San Francisco Bay Times, active-duty transgender service members as well as community leaders and transgender veterans, such as Bay Area-based Felicia “Flames” Elizondo and Theresa Sparks, are bravely speaking out and fighting back. They are being supported by high-ranking military leaders, many Republicans, and countless others both in the U.S. and abroad who refuse to accept President Trump’s hateful views.

    One influential supporter is Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), who served in the U.S. Navy for 23 years and is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In a statement released the same day as Trump’s tweets, McCain said: “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military—regardless of their gender identity. We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so—and should be treated as the patriots they are.”


     

    TAVA and SPART*A Stand Strong

    Organizations such as the Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) and Servicemembers, Partners, and Allies for Respect and Tolerance for All (SPART*A) are needed more now than ever. We are proud of both, as well as their members. TAVA was formed in 2003. SPART*A—a membership organization built by, for and with members from all parts of the LGBT military community—launched in 2013.

    SPART*A has created a lengthy FAQ document concerning transgender military issues (https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/sparta/pages/288/attachments/original/1436834637/Trans_Service_Implementation_FAQ_FINAL.pdf?1436834637). It is a valuable resource for anyone seeking information and guidance on these matters. If only President Trump and his advisers had taken the time to read it.

    Below is TAVA’s response to Trump’s July 26 statement via Twitter:

    “The proud patriotic veterans and service members of Transgender American Veterans Association (TAVA) are deeply disappointed by President Trump’s heartless tweet this morning prohibiting transgender military service. Understandably, the nation is in shock and disbelief that a president would turn his back upon those service members that have sacrificed their life for his freedom to tweet such a post

    Evan Young, Major U.S. Army retired, President of Transgender American Veterans Association, said, ‘This morning’s tweet by the President is deeply disappointing. TAVA is actively working with other organizations to create a unified front. We support our actively serving brothers and sisters. As transgender American veterans, who have proudly and patriotically volunteered to serve in our nation’s armed forces, we feel that assault doubly on our identity, on who we are. Our brothers, sisters, family, and allies were targeted and our freedom and resolve tested. As veterans, we are keenly aware of that price for freedom, and I personally call on each and every one to step up their situational awareness, administer self-care, and be safe out there.’

    We must not lose sight of the fact that transgender people have served honorably and for decades. For the last year, transgender persons served openly without an issue. Currently, policies in place do require that transgender recruits complete transition prior to entering into the service. The President’s careless tweet is just that, a tweet and not policy. TAVA will continue to provide unwavering support for our transgender service members and veterans past, present, and future.”