Transgender vets on American values, 4th of July

Dana Fuchko, of East Point, is a veteran of the Georgia Army National Guard and served in Iraq in 2005-2006. Monica Helms, of Marietta, is a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

The Fourth of July is always a time to reflect on some of our most fundamental American values: Freedom. The opportunity to work hard and provide a better life for yourself and your loved ones. The pride in knowing that you live in a country always striving to be better, and in which everyone should be treated fairly and equally.

It’s a particularly powerful holiday for us because we are veterans who have served our country. We’ve served on the frontlines to defend our nation’s freedom and our values, and our families have made sacrifices the likes of which so many other military families across this nation know all too well.

But there’s one more thing: we’re all transgender. That means until just this past week, we were not able to serve openly. It means that even though we have put our lives on the line for our country, and even though our families have given up so much, we return home to a culture and legislative landscape full of discriminatory bills targeting us simply because of who we are.

A lot of Americans still don’t know what exactly it means to be transgender, and that’s ok. A transgender person is someone whose body doesn’t match who they know they are on the inside, and so they transition and live as the gender they have always known themselves to be.

We believe that as more of us share our stories – and as more Americans realize transgender people are their friends and family members, and even service members defending their freedoms – we’ll see discriminatory bills decline.

Our military is finally shedding its discriminatory policies that prevent transgender service members from living as their authentic selves. This is a historic step forward – but we still have much work to do on the home front.

Here in Georgia, we’re one of only a handful of states in the nation without a civil rights law to protect the very freedoms we defended. That means transgender people like ourselves could be fired from our jobs, kicked out of our housing or even denied service in a public place – like a restaurant or a mall – simply because of who we are.

In North Carolina, the situation is worse – transgender people actually are banned from using public restrooms. Can you imagine? Unfortunately, it isn’t far-fetched to imagine such hateful and discriminatory bills coming to Georgia next year.

These are not the American values for which we fought. These are not the values of Georgia, a state we’re proud to call home. Rather, these bills represent desperate attempts to capitalize on the lack of familiarity with transgender Americans. They chip away at our humanity by singling us out for harm and discrimination.

Each of us volunteered to serve our nation because we believe in our country’s founding values. We believe strongly in not only protecting our country, but in making it even better. And we’re standing up for those values once again, by drawing attention to legislative inequalities that harm so many here in Georgia and across the nation.

Rather than debating toxic bills that belittle and dehumanize transgender Georgians or other segments of the population, we should be talking about bills that respect everyone’s freedoms – and that includes the freedom to have a job without being fired just because of who you are, and the freedom to walk into a mall and receive the same service as everyone else. We urge our lawmakers to look toward the future and finally pass legislation that protects every single Georgian from discrimination. Such a bill is long overdue.

We were all proud to serve our country, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat. We had your backs so that you could go about your lives free from the worry of terrorism and violence. But this is an important moment for the transgender community, including all of the transgender members of the armed forces who have served silently. Will you now have our backs?