By Shira Schoenberg | The Republican | June 19, 2019
BOSTON — Sixty-five Massachusetts lawmakers — led by Sen. Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and Rep. Mindy Domb, D-Amherst — are calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to allow transgender people to serve in the Massachusetts National Guard, despite President Donald Trump’s ban.
“President Trump’s recently implemented military policy is a step backwards in that it discriminates against an entire class of people based on their gender transition,” the lawmakers wrote in a June 11 letter to Baker. “It has no place in Massachusetts and diminishes the strength of the National Guard.”
On April 12, Trump’s policy went into effect banning anyone diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” from serving in the U.S. military. Legal challenges are pending in federal court.
Each state has its own National Guard, which is controlled by the governor, although units can be mobilized by the president.
Officials in California, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Washington state, New Jersey and Colorado have all said their National Guards will continue accepting transgender soldiers.
Baker, a Republican who supports gay rights and signed a state transgender anti-discrimination law, said Monday, “I think anybody who wants to serve their country and put themselves in harm’s way should be commended and given the opportunity to serve.”
Baker said his office has talked with Attorney General Maura Healey’s office “and we’re going to see what options are available to us.”
Healey has filed court briefs in multiple lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s ban. One brief filed by Healey and other attorneys general argues that Trump’s ban is irrational and unconstitutional, and the states’ interests in an effective national defense and in the civil rights of transgender people are best served by letting transgender people serve openly in the military.
Healey’s office confirmed that her staff have discussed the issue with Baker administration officials, but said the substance of any legal advice that was provided is confidential.
“Our office is leading a coalition of states in fighting this discriminatory policy in court. We will continue to fight for the rights of all who wish to serve,” Healey said in a statement.
The lawmakers’ letter asks Baker to “reaffirm publicly your support for transgender service within the National Guard of Massachusetts.”
”Here in the Commonwealth, we believe that anyone who is qualified and capable to serve should have the opportunity to do so and that no soldier should be treated any differently today because of who they are,” the lawmakers wrote.
Lesser said military families have been thrown into uncertainty because transgender soldiers could be discharged at any moment. He said he wants Baker to publicly affirm, as governors of other states have, that “If they’re willing to put on the uniform and do what’s necessary to fulfill the obligations of training and readiness, someone who wants to serve their country should be allowed to do that.”
Lesser said he does not know how many transgender troops are serving in Massachusetts, but “it’s really about the statement of inclusion.”
Domb said, “We’ve done a good job in Massachusetts about reaffirming that we see our transgender neighbors, we value them and we want to make sure that their rights are intact. The ban contradicted that, so it gave us a good opportunity to reaffirm that’s important.”
Legally, the National Guard exists separately from the U.S. armed forces, although National Guard units can be called up to support the U.S. military.
Jennifer Levi, director of the Transgender Rights Project at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and one of the attorneys challenging Trump’s ban, said state governors are responsible for setting National Guard policy. So Baker is legally allowed to reject Trump’s transgender ban. She said she could not provide a clear answer as to what would happen if a transgender guardsman were called up to assist the U.S. military.
Levi said in her view, the legislators’ request to Baker is consistent with ensuring a strong National Guard.
“There is no basis for either excluding from service or discharging people who can meet the strict criteria for joining the National Guard, and the National Guard is weakened and undermined by a policy that excludes fit, highly qualified people from serving,” Levi said.
Other lawmakers from Western Massachusetts who signed the letter are Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, Rep. Brian Ashe, D-Longmeadow, Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, and Rep. Jose Tosado, D-Springfield.
Rep. John Velis, D-Westfield, a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, did not sign it. Velis said as someone who is still in the Army, he cannot sign a letter that is critical of the policies of his commander in chief.