Char Davenport

Meet Char Davenport: Trans in the Military

Thank Them for Their Service by Protecting Their Right to Serve

BY MICHELLE E. BROWN

Individuals enlist in military service for a multitude of reasons but all ultimately stand proudly for their service to this country. Many, including LGBTQ service members, make the ultimate sacrifice. Each year on Nov. 11 we celebrate Veterans Day honoring and thanking them for their service.

In a series of tweets, Pres. Trump announced that transgender people would be banned from serving in the U.S. military "in any capacity" attempting to reverse an Obama-era decision to support those who would live openly and authentically as transgender while in service of their country.

Char Davenport is a Navy Veteran from the Vietnam era conflict. She has dedicated her life to achieving equality for the transgender community in the work place, health care, public accommodations, voter rights and education helping train dozens of new advocates and leaders in the movement. Char is the Michigan Field Organizer for the National LGBTQ Task Force's Faith-based Gender Justice and Allyship Project.

She has helped pass non-discrimination ordinances across Michigan and works with the National Center for Transgender Equality. She's often in Washington DC lobbying her representatives, including a recent trip to support measures to curb gun violence. Like many who enlist even today, Char's motivation initially was more for opportunity than patriotism.

"I was 18 years old trying to navigate my way in a small conservative factory town. I knew I had to get out of where I was because I was headed for a lot of trouble. I was contemplating my future and I happened to be walking downtown. A Navy recruiter flagged me down. I walked into his office and they said I could be anything I want which was an interesting proposition, so I enlisted. I also knew that I could travel. The one thing that the Navy did was travel, you went everywhere. And I really saw this as an opportunity" Davenport said in a recent interview on "Collections by Michelle Brown."

Davenport had not come out as transgender while in the military but credits the experience for helping her take those early steps to living authentically.

"After I had enlisted I could see the pride that my father had in his son and I was glad that he was happy. And quite frankly I had hoped that that's what the Navy would do. It would be kind of a hyper masculine experience; a masculine environment and you know I would get myself right so to speak. I thought I thought this could be like a war to make me who I should be. But while I was in the military that's really when I became aware that I was transgender. So, while I was maybe thinking that it would help me man up or whatever, what I actually discovered was that I was not alone. I met other trans service members who were serving very secretly just like myself."

In his July tweets Trump not only called for a ban of transgender people from serving in the U.S. military "in any capacity" but went on to say that the military "...cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

How did these tweets feel to this veteran?

"You know with President Barack Obama it just looked like we had so much hope. We had all this momentum. And then when Donald Trump, President Donald Trump, announced his decision to ban transgender service members - it felt that he had told us (transgender vets and service members) no thanks we don't appreciate you. And it just felt like a dirty trick. And I cried, and I was angry and I was almost speechless. It felt like a kick in the gut. And then when you'e down there is another kick in the head and it scared me quite frankly" Davenport said.

A 2016 study commissioned by the Pentagon itself contradicts the President's rationale, finding that the medical costs for transgender military members would be an "exceedingly small portion of active-component health care expenditures."

As for the presence of transgender service members being disruptive, Davenport added "When I look back at it now and you know everything that I did. In the military back then. I would have been able to do had I transitioned. Back then there was nothing that I could not have done. But it would have been nice to serve openly certainly for me and the others. But I also think it would have been better for the entire squadron that was in the squad. And I think it would have actually created more cohesion rather than tension." Human rights and LGBT-rights organizations filed two federal lawsuits against President Trump and members of his administration alleging that a ban against transgender people serving in the military is unconstitutional. Recently, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia cited Trump's tweets as among the reasons she was temporarily blocking Trump's ban on enlisting and retaining transgender military personnel.

Some things haven't changed. Members of the LGBTQ community will be attracted to military service for many of the same reasons that attracted the young Char Davenport to enlist.

As we thank all veterans for their service this November, let's stand together to protect those in the Transgender community right to serve.

To hear the full interview with Char Davenport follow "Collections by Michelle Brown" podcast on Blog Talk Radio, ITunes, Stitcher or SoundCloud Michelle E. Brown is a public speaker, activist and author. Her weekly podcast "Collections by Michelle Brown" airs every Thursday at 7 p.m. and can be heard on Blog Talk Radio, ITunes, Stitcher and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook at "Collections by Michelle Brown."
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