As Trump delivers his first official State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, one person in the audience is expected to garner a lot of attention. Attending as a special guest for Rep. Joe Kennedy, transgender soldier Staff Sgt. Patricia King will sit and listen to a speech given by a president who doesn't support her right to serve in the military.
King has been in the Army for nearly two decades. She told The Boston Globe that it was during her service that she realized that she was a transgender woman. Yet despite her storied military career, her president has indicated that he doesn't believe she should be allowed the opportunity to openly be who she is. As Kennedy's guest, she will function as a silent protest to Trump's attempts at discriminatory policy implementation.
For a refresher, back in 2016, Obama's Defense Department announced it was lifting a previously instated ban on transgender people serving in the military. Prior to the lift, transgender service people had to keep their identities to themselves. LGBTQ-rights activists rejoiced after the ban was lifted, as transgender people could then serve openly. But suddenly, in July of 2017, Trump announced via Twitter that he was unilaterally re-instituting the ban. In three separate tweets, he wrote:
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow...Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming...victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.
Trump's ban on transgender service members was overruled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, though it could potentially be challenged before the Supreme Court if the Trump administration files an appeal. The Pentagon reportedly resumed accepting transgender recruits on Jan. 1, 2018, according to The Hill.
"I have served for almost 19 years," King told the Globe. "And all of a sudden, it is all hanging in the balance."
King told the Globe that it was at the end of her most recent deployment, in 2013, that she realized she was transgender. She reportedly came out to her parents, and then to her ex-wife and two sons. She says that she is the first person to receive gender reassignment surgery paid for by the military.
“There are much easier ways to get surgery covered than enlisting in the military, [facing] the possibility of deployment, and dealing with the stigma of being a transgender service member,” King, who was deployed to Afghanistan three times, told the Globe. "Every one of us who raises our right hand is prepared to give everything in the defense of our country."
Kennedy will not be seated with King during the SOTU because he will be in Fall River, Massachusetts, preparing to deliver the Democratic rebuttal to Trump's speech. Largely hailed as a rising star within the Democratic party, Kennedy will deliver the official rebuttal from a technical high school in a region of Massachusetts characterized as an immigrant community. "I couldn’t imagine a more fitting location to deliver the Democratic response to the State of the Union," he told Fall River's The Herald News.
But even though he won't be there, he told the Boston paper that he wants Trump to be face to face with King, someone he has effectively dehumanized.
"I want her to be there as a real person and the face of an inhumane policy," Kennedy told the outlet.