Black Transgender Americans Are Finally Protected In The Military. What About Outside The Ranks?
Transgender Americans still too often face unfair and unequal treatment in their everyday lives.
February 24, 2021 at 10:00 pm
When President Biden honored the contributions of Black service members at a recent Pentagon event with the nation’s first Black secretary of defense by his side, my first thought was, “I wish my father could have seen this.”
As a Black soldier in the 1940s, my father’s own contributions weren’t respected or even acknowledged as they should have been. He fought for his country on foreign soil during World War II, but when he returned home, he was denied the educational opportunities that his fellow soldiers received under the GI Bill and was barred from equal participation in civilian life. Despite these challenges, he dedicated another 54 years as a veteran to serving as the commander of his local American Legion Post. He simply never stopped serving.
When I was with him in the hospital just before he passed away, my father was gone in a coma but stayed alive. He would not die until he was relieved of his command as a soldier. I had to say to him, “You must go. Your work is done here. I relieve you of your command. I got your back. I’ll take care of mom.”
He had been in a coma but reached for my hand and tried to open his eyes. He was free to go. I promised him that I would take on his duties and obligations, take up the mantle and continue to serve family and country in his honor. It was only then that he finally allowed himself to rest.
I’ve found my own way to serve my community as an advocate for Black transgender and people of color communities. The treatment and disparities in society were so blatant that I knew I had to help. It’s what my parents taught me. I know they would have been just as proud as I was to see the ban on transgender military service ended this year. I see my father’s story reflected in the experiences of the transgender service members whose brave sacrifices and contributions to our national security were denigrated under the ban.
Now, the inclusion of openly transgender troops will bring talented new recruits into the ranks, and it will allow current service members to work without fear and focus on doing the best job they can. That’s the same kind of equal treatment for which my father and his troop mates worked tirelessly to attain but never did.
As our new president and secretary of defense pledge to value and honor these contributions, I can see that they understand the military’s critical responsibility to facilitate fairness and equality for its troops, both in uniform and in civilian life. The military has long been a pathway to opportunity for disenfranchised communities, offering education and employment to those denied chances elsewhere. For instance, the military was once the nation’s largest employer of Black people and is now the nation’s largest employer of transgender people. So when military leaders include transgender people on equal terms as others, new doors open.
Of course, we still have a long way to go before transgender Americans see the end of discrimination in daily life, including those who do and don’t serve in uniform. Today, when transgender service members return home, they still too often face unfair and unequal treatment in their everyday lives. Out of uniform, they may face barriers and denials when they look for employment, new housing, when they apply for a credit card, when they seek healthcare and more.
To ensure that these service members, and all transgender people, have the same rights as all other Americans, we need strong federal nondiscrimination protections like those in the Equality Act. This is especially crucial for Black transgender people and other transgender people of color who experience not only a combination of racism and anti-LGBTQ+ harassment, but also the intense stigmatization that forms another barrier for people like me.
I was just one year old when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 promised equal legal rights to Black people in this country. We still fight for that promise every day. That is why I know that getting the Equality Act passed is critical to moving my community forward. All people, regardless of race or transgender status, deserve the opportunity to have good jobs, provide for their families and be treated with dignity. With the military’s values of honor and respect to guide us, I’m confident that our nation can reach the full potential of freedom that my father fought so hard to protect. And the Equality Act is the next step in that long march.
Kylar W. Broadus, Esq. is founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, the only national organization dedicated to the civil rights of all transgender people of color.