At Pentagon, Duckworth Delivers Remarks Honoring LGBTQ+ Servicemembers and Condemning Trump Administration’s Transgender Military Ban
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Today, combat Veteran and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) spoke at DoD Pride’s eighth annual Pride Month event, where she celebrated the critical role LGBTQ+ servicemembers play in keeping our nation safe. Duckworth delivered strong, pointed remarks against the Trump Administration’s transgender military ban, arguing that it’s not only discriminatory but also dangerous, as it hampers troops’ morale and hurts military readiness. Video of the speech is available here.
“Time after time, you put country over self, proving what should have been obvious long ago: that who you are and who you love has no bearing on your ability to defend the country you love…
“I’ve lived my entire adult life under an oath to protect and defend this nation, so keeping our country the strongest it can be means something to me. But Donald Trump’s transgender ban will only do the opposite… This ban wreaks of the same kind of bigotry that once led our units to be segregated by skin color—the same kind of narrow-mindedness that kept women out of combat and silenced gay servicemembers…
“15 years ago this November, an RPG blasted through the helicopter I was piloting in Iraq. But when I was bleeding out in my Black Hawk that day, I didn’t care if the troops risking their lives to save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white, male or female. All that mattered was that they didn’t leave me behind…
“The true strength of our country lies in our values—in what we represent to the rest of the world. America is already great because America is already good...
“We’re a nation that refuses to accept the status quo if the status quo doesn’t accept all of us. Yes, there have been points when this union has been anything but united. And yes, we’ve had times when bigotry has prevailed… but the miracle of America is that when it looks like those worst instincts are set to prevail, we come together and demand better.”
Duckworth’s full remarks as prepared are below.
Hello, everyone! Happy Pride!
There’s nowhere in the world I’d rather be than here with you today, honoring the heroism of those who serve and the diversity that has helped make our nation so great for so long.
I was told that the theme of today’s celebration is “courage.”
Well, that’s an easy one.
From cadets to four-star generals, from DoD technicians to SES, you all personify courage every day.
Time after time, you put country over self… proving what should have been obvious long ago: that who you are and who you love has no bearing on your ability to defend the country you love.
It’s been 50 years, to the month, since hundreds of people gathered outside a tavern in New York City refusing to be silenced.
Refusing to be belittled.
Refusing to adhere to a status quo that treated them as less-than.
Those five days of protest at Stonewall helped herald a movement that hasn’t just made America a better, fairer place—but has also made our nation safer and our military stronger.
Because make no mistake: our Armed Forces are stronger because of people like Tech Sergeant Leonard Matlovich:
Who, at the age of 19, voluntarily deployed to Vietnam… enduring the horrors of Da Nang and earning a Purple Heart for his service before publicly coming out and legally challenging the military’s discrimination against people like him.
Well aware of the bigotry he’d face… but convinced that it was his duty to make it easier for any gay servicemember to come.
Or people like Major Margaret Witt, a decorated Air Force flight nurse who went from saving troops’ lives during Desert Storm to helping end “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
Our nation is better off because of the sacrifices of the countless LGBTQ Americans who risked their lives for the rest of us even while they were forced to hide a part of who they were.
And this past year alone, our loved ones could sleep more soundly because of the 14,700 transgender American servicemembers working to keep us safe.
Heroes like Captain Jennifer Peace… Lieutenant Commander Blake Dremann… Staff Sergeant Patricia King… and Illinois’ own Tech Sergeant Alexandria Holder, all of whom we’re lucky to have with us here today.
Leaders like CW3 Lindsey Muller, who has served with honor and dignity for nearly two decades.
Who has risked her life, mission after mission, day after day, for this nation.
But who, in her own words, now feels like this country is turning its back on her and telling her that she’s “a burden” because while she chose to be an Army pilot, she just happens to be transgender.
I’ve lived my entire adult life under an oath to protect and defend this nation… first flying helicopters, and now as a Senator.
So keeping our country the strongest it can be means something to me.
But the truth is, Donald Trump’s transgender ban will only do the opposite.
As heartless as it is dangerous, it will hamper troops’ morale and hurt readiness.
This ban wreaks of the same kind of bigotry that once led our units to be segregated by skin color…
The same kind of narrow-mindedness that kept women out of combat and silenced gay servicemembers.
They’re even using the same outdated, discredited excuses… claiming that more diversity will lead to less cohesion…
An argument that has been debunked time after time after time, including just this spring by the Administration’s joint chiefs.
Look, 15 years ago this November, an RPG blasted through the helicopter I was piloting in Iraq.
But when I was bleeding out in my Black Hawk that day, I didn’t care if the troops risking their lives to save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white, male or female.
All that mattered was that they didn’t leave me behind.
If you’re willing to put your life on the line for this country and can do the job, you should be able to serve—no matter who you love or how you identify.
Since Japanese-Americans fought for this nation even while their loved ones sat trapped in internment camps here on U.S. soil…
Since women refused to be grounded, smashing through glass ceilings to fly missions delivering the aircraft needed to help topple the Nazis...
Since black servicemembers risked their lives for the same country that forced their children to attend segregated schools and their families to sit at segregated lunch counters back at home…
And since Perry Watkins stood in uniform as a proud gay man, refusing to be forced out of service because of who he loved, our differences have made us a more effective fighting force.
Scientific research and four-star generals will tell you the same thing: when everyone looks and acts and thinks the same, you become stuck... flat-footed… insular.
Diversity leads to more creative problem-solving and more success.
It’s a better expression of who we are as a country, of course, but it also makes us better able to execute our missions downrange.
With fewer people enlisting as the years go on, we should be celebrating every person who serves.
We should be honoring the transgender servicemembers who love this country so much they’re willing to die for it.
But instead, this Administration is turning them away.
Forcing them out.
Trying to erase the memory of what these American have done for our nation… all the lives they’ve saved and the missions they’ve completed. The good they’ve accomplished and the tragedies they’ve prevented.
This ban…well it’s callous, and it’s dangerous.
Because let’s be perfectly clear:
Our military is the greatest the world has ever seen not in spite of our differences, but because our different backgrounds and abilities make our units stronger.
Bigotry has no place downrange, and winnowing our military in this way weakens our forces and imperils our country.
Like all of you here today, I love this country, and I was ready to die defending it.
But the reality is, we will never be the more perfect union our founders dreamed of until we learn to actually, truly, embrace the power of our diversity...
Until we stop discriminating against people simply because of who they are.
Because diversity isn’t “just” a feel-good issue.
Diversity makes us smarter, as it widens our perspectives.
It makes us better, as it shatters our assumptions.
And it makes us stronger, as it both expands the talent pool we can draw from and deepens our bonds, leading us to treat as equals those who look, love or pray differently than we do ourselves.
From Congress to the DoD to the school PTA, no group can make fully-formed decisions if women, people of color and folks who identify as LGBTQ aren’t properly represented at the table.
And while we may live in the greatest country in the world...
While we may have the most powerful military on the face of the Earth...
The strength of our nation doesn’t stem solely from the size of our defense budget.
The true strength of our country lies in our values… in what we represent to the rest of the world.
America is already great because America is already good.
We’re the nation that elected Harvey Milk…
A nation where the daughter of a janitor can become the first openly gay mayor of Chicago…
And where an Army officer who’d once been silenced under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” celebrated her promotion to brigadier general by having her wife pin her first star to her uniform.
We are a nation that refuses to accept the status quo if the status quo doesn’t accept all of us.
Yes, there have been points when this union has been anything but united.
And yes, we’ve had times when bigotry has prevailed… when we’ve mistreated our neighbors because of the differences between us.
But time after time, we’ve refused to give in to that darkness.
The miracle of America is that when it looks like those worst instincts are set to prevail, we come together and demand better.
Gay, straight, transgender, white, black, Asian, Latino, you name it… we speak out.
We crowd outside Stonewall Inn and we march down Pennsylvania Avenue.
We bend the moral arc of the universe, not waiting for anyone else to do it for us.
We demand justice… fairness… equality.
We show courage.
And we take pride in who we are… celebrating our differences yet always finding commonalities among us.
So thank you for all that you do…. for serving our nation so faithfully... and for helping make it that more perfect, more equal union we know it can be.
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