Transgender Navy Submarine Officer Will Accompany Senator to State of the Union

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Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann speaks at the Pentagon's ceremony in honor of LGBT pride month in June 2018. (Defense Department video)
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann speaks at the Pentagon's ceremony in honor of LGBT pride month in June 2018. (Defense Department video)

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's guest for the State of the Union address Tuesday night will be transgender Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann, who transitioned from female to male while serving on active duty.

Gillibrand, a New York Democrat who recently announced her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, said Dremann's presence would highlight the bill she plans to introduce this week to block President Donald Trump from banning transgender individuals from serving in the military.

"Any transgender American who meets the standards should be able to sign up to join our armed forces, and that's why I'm going to introduce new legislation this week to protect current and future transgender service member," she said in a statement.

The legislation would prohibit the Defense Department from discharging currently serving members based solely on gender identity and prevent it from blocking the recruitment of transgender individuals.

In an interview last March with Military.com, Dremann, a supply officer who served more than three years aboard the Ohio-class ballistic submarine Maine and went on patrol five times, said that as a woman, he helped with the integration of women aboard submarines.

In his transition from female to male, Dremann said he never missed training or a deployment.

"You just don't miss deployments; you handle your medical problems" to comply with the needs of the service, he said.

Dremann, president of the Spart*A advocacy group representing about 800 transgender active-duty, reserve and Guard service members, said last year that the continuing lawsuits and debates on the proposed ban had put transgender service members "in a technical state of limbo" and led to confusion among commanders.

Rep. Donald McEachin, a Democrat from southeastern Virginia, also has invited an active-duty transgender service member, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Megan Winters, as his guest.

McEachin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said he invited Winters to support the rights of transgender individuals to serve openly in the military and show opposition to Trump's proposed ban.

"As many as 15,000 transgender individuals currently serve in the U.S. military, and they deserve our utmost respect and gratitude," McEachin said in a statement, referring to an estimate by the Williams Institute, a think tank based at the University of California-Los Angeles School of Law devoted to research on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Other Democrats have invited guests to highlight their opposition to the president's policies on a range of issues, including health care, civil rights, gun rights, the government shutdown, the economy and border wall. All members of Congress are entitled to bring one guest.

At least two Democrats, Rep. Jimmy Gomez of California, and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, have invited immigrants from Central America who were undocumented when they worked at Trump properties.

The White House has yet to release the list of guests who will sit in the special section of the House gallery with first lady Melania Trump.

The State of the Union was delayed during the partial, 35-day government shutdown when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, declined to issue the invitation to Trump to speak.

Last year, Trump's special guests included several current and former members of the military and law enforcement officers.

The service members included retired Sgt. Matthew Bradford, the first blind, double amputee to re-enlist in the Marines after losing his legs and his sight in Iraq in 2007, and Coast Guard Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Ashlee Leppert, who was involved with several rescues in the 2017 hurricane season.

Transgender service members continue to serve on active duty while the president's proposal is being challenged in the U.S. courts.

In a July 2017 Tweet, Trump proposed a total ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, stating that his administration would "not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military." He later directed then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to draw up a policy.

Mattis' proposed policy, however, is not a total ban. It would allow transgender individuals to continue serving if they began transitioning their gender during President Barack Obama's presidency, when transgender individuals could serve openly.

Mattis' policy also would bar transgender individuals from starting transition while in the military and block anyone from joining if they had already transitioned.

The Defense Department has not implemented the policy while lawsuits make their way through the U.S. court system. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted injunctions in a number of the suits against implementing the policy while the court cases continue, but one remaining lawsuit blocking implementation remains in place in U.S. District Court in Maryland.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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