Kody Horton stepped up to the mic tonight at Harvey Milk Plaza and delivered a message to Donald Trump:
“Myself and other LGBT veterans put their asses on the line for this country and the Constitution,” the 43-year-old transgender Navy veteran said. “All I ask is for the same goddam rights that we protect your asses for. I did not put my life on the line to be shit on.”
The plaza was packed with people, shouting and chanting and cheering. The city’s response to Trump’s Twitter announcement that transgender people can’t serve in the military was instant, strong, and visible.
People at the rally were not all fans of the military. Rev. Megan Rohrer said that she’s a pacifist, but that people who want to serve – “when I can’t” – should have the same rights as anyone else. “Our love is bigger than his hate.”
But the message was clear: You can’t call people a “distraction.” As one speaker named Alex noted, “a distraction is what you call it when it’s not your problem.”
I watched a pair of retired military brass tonight on CNN, and the two (straight) white guys said there was no evidence anywhere that transgender soldiers and sailors are a threat to unit coherence or military readiness.
It doesn’t make any difference, Admiral John Kirby said.
That’s the message I heard over and over today: “In close quarters, your lives depend on each other,” Horton told me. “Nobody cares. The only thing you care about is if someone can do the job.”
Horton, a transgender man, served in the Navy from 1992 to 1996, mostly as an aviation technician in San Diego. That was in the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell era, and Horton said he served with a lot of LGBT people.
There was still a climate of fear, he noted, but most sailors knew that some of their colleagues were gay, and it made absolutely no difference to military effectiveness.
Horton went into the Navy in part because the military offered a chance to get an education. After four years, Horton used the GI bill to go to college.
But “I swore an oath to defend the Constitution,” Horton said. And that Constitution protects the right of everyone.
I ran into Theresa Sparks as the rally was turning into a march down Market St. Sparks, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and has been a transgender community activist for many years, told me that the Trump policy is going to terrify a lot of existing service members.
There are, by most estimates, at least 5,000 current active-duty service people who are transgender. “These are people who are dependent on the military for their paycheck, their housing, and their health care,” Sparks said.
Sparks said that the Veterans Administration paid for the hormones she took when she came to San Francisco and began her transition. What happens to the health care of all of those soldiers and sailors if they are suddenly kicked out of the military?