Emotions were running deep in the courtyard of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza the evening President Donald Trump tweeted his plans to ban transgender people from serving in the US military.
“I’m just sickened by the whole thing,” said Deb Smith, the openly gay principal at Daniel Pearl Magnet School in Los Angeles. She was one of more than 100 people who attended the Center’s hastily-planned community gathering where people recorded video messages to transgender service members and wrote messages of opposition to the policy change to elected officials.
“This is just outright discrimination. It’s wrong. This is just hate,” she said. “The community needs to be very, very vocal about all this because if we’re not, it will just be seen as nobody cares.”
In July 2016, then-Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that transgender people would be able to serve openly in the US Military. Trump made clear in a series of tweets on Wednesday that he is aiming to put a halt to that progress. Since then, military leaders have said there will be no changes until the White House sends new rules to the Department of Defense and the Pentagon issues new guidelines.
Burbank resident Manuel Velez, an LGBT military veteran, could barely hold back the tears when he tried to talk about why he wanted to be with his community.
“I’m here because this is pretty outrageous,” Velez said. “I served in the military during the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and I wanted to be here today to let the transgender community in the military know that there are people here that have their back. While I was serving, if I had known people had my back, I think it would have made things easier.”
The Cost of Serving in Silence
The 31-year-old was a member of a Marine expeditionary unit that patrolled the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf. He left the military in 2010 – the year before the end of DADT.
“Because of the ban, I was too afraid to be who I was,” he said. “All of these transgender individuals have come out and they’ve been identified and they can’t just be forced to go back into hiding. Pretty much their cover’s been blown.”
Sharon Brown, a Navy veteran who is now director of human resources at the Center, said Trump’s planned ban “makes me want to continue to fight even harder than I have fought for the last 30 years – it’s been almost 30 years since I transitioned.”
“We’ve made so much progress then with a tweet like this and the message it sends out to the community and to the world that somehow this is OK. It’s not. And somehow we’re going to sit back and allow it to happen and not resist? No. We’re going to fight. We’ve overcome so many obstacles before. We will overcome this one,” Brown said.
Brown served from 1984-89 in the US Navy Reserves and said there is a heavy toll when you have to hide who you really are.
“You’re less productive, you’re always on guard,” she explained. “It takes a lot of energy to hide who you are when that energy could be used for other things. When you can be open, you’re much happier, you’re much more engaged. The sun truly comes up when you’re allowed to be who you are and it’s shining all day long because you can actually serve as your authentic self and be proud of who you are.”
Outrage Among All Ages
Michael Bellavia, a 47-year-old gay man who works in marketing, says it’s more important then ever to publicly support transgender military personnel.
“These folks have served as opposed to a president who dodged the draft,” Bellavia said. “He’s got some gall to not want these folks to serve. I have friends who are transgender and have been in the military and I know about the struggle they go through and continue to go through. They don’t deserve to be treated in such a flippant way.”
The outrage was being felt among all age groups from 24-year-old Jess McDonald to 71-year-old Don Colhour.
McDonald has lived in Los Angeles for less than a year and had never been to a Center event before.
“I have felt super cut off from the community since moving here from Connecticut,” she said.
“I read the (Trump) tweets and I was filled with dread. My cousin is trans and being so far away from each other right now makes it all that much scarier.”
“I’ve seen a lot and this is terrible and pathetic and so wrong. We just can’t imagine that people are stepping back this way," said Colhur. "We’re going to have to stand and fight. We’re going to have to make a lot of noise.
“We’ve got to march, we’ve got to fight. We’ve got to stand up for our rights.”
The Center had hosted a press conference earlier in the day where transgender Center employee Rudy Akbarian, an active military reservist, spoke out against Trump’s plans and the impact they would have.
Akbarian also spoke at the evening gathering and said: ”I know it’s not over. The LGBT community is an extremely strong space and I know we’re not giving up. We all get to do this together.”