Election season is starting again, which for the LGBT community can mean a showdown against candidates who don't support equal rights. When it comes to politics, discriminated groups can’t afford to stand on the sidelines because each election can move our causes forward or two steps back.
For Florida's 21st Congressional District, in Palm Beach County, I am one of two Democrats running for office, and I am proud to say that no matter who wins the primary, the LGBT community will have a staunch supporter in Congress. I was a national security staffer in Congress before running for office in my hometown, and I witnessed firsthand how many groups lobby Congress with the sole purpose to revoke LGBT rights, and how many members of Congress were swayed. So I want to applaud my primary opponent, Rep. Lois Frankel, for supporting the LGBT community throughout her career. But many districts, both in Florida and nationwide, don't have an ally in Congress fighting for them.
I am a Navy Reserve sailor and I enlisted in 2015 under the Obama administration from a recruiting station in Delray Beach. Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed four years prior, so from the start of my service I was working alongside openly gay sailors. In bootcamp, many of my fellow recruits talked about how they now felt comfortable joining the military because they could be themselves and they felt accepted.
Then in June 2016, the ban against transgender service members was lifted and the whole Navy shifted in the right direction again. Immediately we received trainings educating us on transgender issues, the new policy in the military, and how to respect transgender needs in the workforce. I remember sitting in that briefing one drill weekend feeling so proud to be a sailor, and proud of our leaders for continuing to knock down the barriers to national service. I remember coming home and telling my wife about the training I had, and how happy I was to see the Navy making a real effort to create a safe and respectable work environment for transgender service members.
Don’t get me wrong — things were still not perfect in the military regardless of the advances made under the Obama Administration. But with our leaders accepting all service members regardless of their sexuality or gender identities, I saw we were going down the right path, and we all had hope for what changes were coming next.
Then Trump won the election November 2016, and shortly after his inauguration, he started the ban on transgender service members. Immediately, the transgender awareness trainings stopped, despite military leadership's disapproval. In the end, the President had the final say.
Just after the transgender ban, I started working closely with a Navy sailor who is an active voice in the LGBT community. One day he opened up about the harsh realities of serving under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. While my colleague was deployed to Iraq after 9/11, his partner died in a car accident, devastating him. But he couldn't mourn his loss publicly, for fear of losing his career, his livelihood, and his friends. Members of our LGBT community should never have suffered these injustices — but going forward we can’t let unfit candidates become our leaders, or we risk repeating the past.
Each election is a battleground to elect those who represent our values, so whoever you support, make sure you support them on Aug. 18 with your vote. And if I am the candidate you support, know that I will always be your ally.
Guido Weiss is a progressive Democratic candidate for Florida's 21st Congressional District in Palm Beach County and a Navy Reserve officer. Before running for office, Guido was a senior advisor in Congress, where he worked on policy related to the LGBT community, indigenous rights, veterans care, healthcare, environmental protections, national security, and other issues. Guido was born and raised in Wellington, Florida.