On July 26, President Donald Trump issued a series of tweets claiming the US military “will not accept or allow” transgender people in the armed forces due to a burden of “tremendous medical costs and disruption” caused by trans service members.
The reaction was swift. Within 48 hours, a group of Atlanta LGBT organizations pulled together and formed a weekend rally and march in support of transgender rights, which organizer James Brian Yancey used to kick off a city-wide fundraising effort for trans nonprofits.
“We feel lucky to have the freedoms we have, standing at the rainbow crosswalks. We made so much achievement, but now there’s one segment of the larger community that’s not staying neutral. They’re legitimately going backward month by month, with legislation and the way they’re treated,” Yancey said. “Some people will say it’s our duty, because whether they were trans or straight or gay all those people at some point came to the aid of us … we owe it to those people now.”
The march began at Midtown gay bar TEN and went to Bobby Dodd Stadium on the Georgia Tech campus, where Atlanta’s professional soccer team just began a match against Orlando. Once the official march ended, there were cries to take to the streets, and advocates led a line of cars all the way back to the restaurant.
“One thing that I do want us to make sure is that this is the start of an effort, that you don’t go home and forget about stuff,” Yancey told the crowd. “Money is energy crystallized. We love you being here. We love you chanting. We love you marching and we need your energy crystallized to help this community. … It’s crucially important today is not a party.”
The rally was an opportunity to draw attention to a number of issues faced by America’s transgender community, not just the president’s tweets regarding military service. Activists and Rep. Keisha Waites paid homage to the transwomen who were murdered this year with a moment of silence, and there was plenty of talk about the president’s backpedaling on school guidance documents regarding what bathrooms students can use.
“I’m from the Vietnam generation. How many years was it between the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the signing of the civil rights legislation? We’re in this for the long haul,” Dani Atlanta, a trans activist, told Georgia Voice.
Atlanta trans activists issued statements, including one from Monica Helms, the Atlanta resident and Navy veteran who designed the pink, blue and white transgender flag. Activist and author Gabrielle Claiborne read Helms’ remarks to the cheering crowd.
“We fought long and hard to get open service and we will not give it up that easily,” her statement said. “This is not going to end well for the Trump administration. The trans people are some of the strongest activists in the country. Decades of oppression have made us battle-hardened and experienced.”
Helms also had words specifically for transgender service members.
“I tell you one thing: keep hope alive. If you are kicked out of the military, we are here for you,” she said. “Trump will not be in office forever. His reign of hate and bigotry will come to an end sooner or later. Keep your uniforms clean and pressed, because if Trump kicks you out of the service, you will one day be back.”
Jon Ossoff, former Democratic candidate for Georgia’s 6th District, pledged to stand beside LGBT service members.
“Anyone who is brave and qualified and willing to defend this country should be welcome into our armed forces; should be applauded for their bravery and their commitment to the United States,” Ossoff said. “This president is attacking people who serve our country under his command to distract the country from his weakness and incompetence.”
Setting military policy
Though his tweets were characterized as “effectively banning” trans individuals from the military, it will take more action than social media to make that policy.
According to Reuters, 58 percent of Americans who responded to its poll on the subject support transgender military service. The news organization reported that Marine Corps. Gen. Joseph Dunford said the military will not alter its policies until it receives additional guidance from the secretary of defense.
The New York Times reports that the Pentagon will provide “detailed guidance in the ‘near future’ on how Mr. Trump’s tweets will be turned into policy.”
The tweets were praised by anti-LGBT groups, including the Family Research Council, National Organization for Marriage and the Ku Klux Klan. A bipartisan group of senators nationwide, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-California), Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), spoke out against Trump’s remarks.
Though neither of Georgia’s senators appeared to take a stance, Karen Handel, the newly elected Republican in Georgia’s 6th District, told the Marietta Daily Journal that “the military is not going to act on a 40-character tweet.”
“I think you have to see what the actual directive is going to be,” she said. “What I will say is this: I do not think that the military should be required to pay for the transition surgery. That is an elective.”
Daniel Dunlop, president of the Atlanta Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, issued a statement the day after Trump’s tweets, saying AGLCC stands united in its support of the transgender community.
“This policy shift further unveils an agenda by the present administration to deny LGBT equality,” Dunlop said. “As an organization, we stand with firm resolve against this policy and denounce all bullying tactics that seek to wage war with our transgender community. An attack on one of us is an attack on all.”
Georgia Equality issued a statement saying staff members were “shocked” and “disturbed” to see the tweets.
“The US military is the largest employer of transgender people in the world, employing an estimated 15,000,” the statement read. “Coming from a president that ran on the promise of creating jobs, making a move to strip jobs from 15,000 Americans shows the president’s true feeling toward LGBTQ people.”