(Crystal A. Proxmire, July 30, 2017)
Royal Oak, MI – In spite of the pain that came with President Donald Trump’s Wednesday morning tweet announcing that transgender people would no longer be welcome in the military, there was an atmosphere of hope and love at a rally in Downtown Royal Oak with hundreds of people standing together to support transgender troops.
Trump’s Twitter announcement was quickly followed by assurances from top military officials that the policies would not be changing. However the jab at the transgender community was done, and the debate sparked nationally over whether transgender people would have equal access to being able to serve.
“It’s a little ironic that you’re fighting for freedom and you’re not free,” said Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, who was one of about a dozen elected officials from throughout SE Michigan who attended the rally.
Speaker Robert Fidler of Metro Detroit Political Action Network said “We can’t stand by while life and liberty is trampled on just because a few bigots can’t handle more than two pronouns.”
ACLU Attorney Jay Kaplan gave the crowd an update on the facts, stating that Twitter is not an executive order, but that the President could issue one. “We have what is called the Equal Protection Clause [of the Constitution],” Kaplan said. “Any time the government singles out a group of people…that clause comes into play.” The ACLU and other organizations are already prepared for a legal battle if transgender people are barred from service.
Gerri Conley served in the US Army for six years before coming out as transgender and beginning the transitioning process. As a counter-intelligence agent it was Connie’s job to do background investigations required for security clearance. She explained that in those days being recognized as LGBT meant a dishonorable discharge, “a stigma that would haunt them their entire life and bar them from the benefits earned in the military.”
“I decided not to peruse a career in the military due to the fear,” she said.
Michelle Davenport served in the Navy for seven years and two months including time in Vietnam. “Now the President of the country I risked my life to defend has spit on me, and I take it personally,” she said.
The rally included several LGBT and trans-specific groups including Transgender Michigan, FTM Detroit, Metropolitan Community Church, Christ the Good Shepherd, Royal Oak First United Methodist Church, ACLU, and wa primarily organized by TGDetroit.
Michelle Fox-Phillips who founded Transgender Detroit, now called Gender Identity Network Alliance, smiled through most of the rally as the crowds cheered on the long list of speakers. “To see a crowd like this at a trans rally is phenomenal,” she said. “We are starting to turn the page on acceptance.”
An area of the Farmer’s Market parking lot had been roped off specifically for counter-protestors, though none came.
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter echoed the peaceful tone of the rally. “It’s not going to be our response to be like them. We aren’t going to be angry, fearful or bitter to them as they have been to us,” he said. “Let us leave here with the words of that great prophet Michelle Obama ‘when they go low, we go high.’ We’re not going to stop, with anger yes, but we will win with love.”
Beyond the hugs and the holding of hands and signs, Ferndale Pride Event Chair Julia Music gave advice to the non-trans people in the crowd about getting to know transgender people and standing up for them to others. “It’s hard as cis people to know what to say, but keep saying it anyway. Keep saying ‘no, you’re wrong, here is the information,” she said.
NOTE: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Gerri Conley and to clarify the distinction between Transgender Detroit and TGDetroit.