For transgender Americans, being out and visible as our authentic selves can be liberating and empowering. But too often, it can also leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed, alert to the reality that trans people are often the targets of violence, harassment, and discrimination.
Five years ago, I saw for myself the joys and worries of being visible in the fight for transgender equality. I appeared in a nationally aired commercial about the need to respect and protect transgender people, one of the first nationwide TV spots to directly advocate for trans people’s right to use the restroom with dignity. It aired on Fox News during the Republican National Convention in the months following the passage of HB2, the infamous “bathroom bill” in North Carolina that rightly sparked outrage. The TV ad, and my story, challenged viewers to consider, many for the first time, their beliefs about transgender people.
In the weeks after, I heard from so many people that the segment helped them explain the need for transgender equality to friends and family members or opened their eyes to this issue. Some folks even shared that they were unaware that in most states, people could legally face discrimination in public places like restaurants and stores because of their gender identity.
A half decade later, that gap remains in most of the country: A lack of express and enduring nondiscrimination protections at the federal level leaves LGBTQ people vulnerable to being kicked out of a business, denied care in medical settings, or turned away from federally funded programs. My wife and I are among the many LGBTQ Americans who have even personally experienced the shock and pain of discrimination.
This month our community recognizes and celebrates Transgender Awareness Week, the perfect time for us to come together and agree that no one should face discrimination just because they are transgender.
We’re also honoring Veterans Day this month, and as someone who served as a Naval intelligence officer, I know I speak for many transgender veterans when I share my specific sadness that the absence of a federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination law leaves LGBTQ veterans vulnerable. Now that the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is repealed (and has been, thankfully, for more than 10 years) and the anti-transgender military ban is lifted, it is so dispiriting that LGBTQ people can selflessly serve their country but then return to their civilian life without the promise of protection. Many active duty and veterans may also have LGBTQ children, who are subject to the piecemeal smattering of protections at the state and local levels. For those serving on active duty, getting assigned to permanent duty station that doesn’t offer local protections can take a tremendous toll on the servicemember and their family. It also feels like a slap in the face that after LGBTQ people complete their service, they can still face judgement because of who they are or who they love, with no legal recourse.
No American should have to overcome the unfair obstacles of discrimination — including those who have served and sacrificed in uniform. And while I have chosen to be visible about my story and my identity, I look to a day where I don’t have to worry about my gender identity/sexual orientation putting me at risk of unlawful discrimination. I’m also focused on speaking out with a clear demand: we need the United States Congress to come together and pass a bipartisan law that finally, once and for all, protects LGBTQ people from discrimination.
This month, as we reflect on Veterans Day and Transgender Awareness Week, is the optimal moment for us to move forward. Congress must demonstrate its commitment to all Americans, including patriotic Americans who have defended our nation’s freedom, by passing comprehensive, LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections. It’s time.
Alaina Kupec is a Senior Director at Gilead and a veteran of the Navy. The views she expresses are her own.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times senior managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.