I'm a Transgender American. My Rights Are Not a Wedge Issue | Opinion

It's been an exhausting election season. Like many others, I have a hard time watching the endless political arguments that fill our 24-hour news cycle, but it's even more frustrating to watch politicians debate whether or not I should have basic rights, such as equal access to health care and job opportunities, simply because I'm transgender.

Attacks against the transgender community are more common this election than in the past because some politicians see attacking people like me as a winning political strategy in swing states such as Michigan. Their goal is to use fear and misinformation to stoke division and gain conservative votes by driving a wedge between Americans. But growing up in a rural community, I've seen that most conservative people have nuanced opinions. Many support me and the transgender community and believe we should have the same freedoms and opportunities as others.

New polls from Morning Consult and PRRI affirm that politicians' attacks on transgender Americans could actually backfire, running the risk of alienating moderates, young Republicans and military families alike.

The Morning Consult poll, which looks in particular at the current ban on transgender people serving in the military, reveals broad support for transgender service members. It finds that more than half of independent voters across the country support the service of qualified transgender troops. And a majority of military households, representing current and former service members who have first-hand knowledge of what the military needs, also agree that the ban is inconsistent with their core values and unfair to transgender Americans.

The PPRI poll found that more than two-thirds of Americans favor allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. military, including 50 percent of Republicans.

Another recent poll, from Hart Research Associates and the Human Rights Campaign, shows that Trump supporters in swing states, including my own state of Ohio, overwhelmingly support equal legal rights for LGBTQ people.

When I saw all this new polling come out, I was heartened to see national data reflect what I experience personally on a day-to-day basis. I grew up and still live in the small rural town of Lisbon, Ohio. From a young age, I knew that the people around me often held conservative political beliefs. But I didn't pay too much notice to which political party they sided with, because that just was never something we talked about. And when I came out as transgender, my neighbors and friends' political affiliation had nothing to do with how they treated me. Overwhelmingly, people showed me respect, and that's what mattered.

I may have been the first transgender person they knew, but they quickly saw that I was still the same person they knew and cared about as a kid, so they worked to educate themselves and support me as I transitioned. Today, my community continues to support me as I fight to end the current ban on transgender people serving in the military, which has blocked me from fulfilling my lifelong dream of enlisting.

Early Voting in Ohio
Early voting takes place in Painesville, Ohio. Dustin Franz/AFP/Getty

Many of my neighbors and co-workers have strong ties to the military themselves, and they understand that the ban goes against the military's core value of respecting people for their actions and what they can do, not who they are or where they come from. In fact, they recognize that the ban undermines our national security by denying our military the contributions of skilled transgender recruits. Our nation is stronger and safer when people of all genders, races and backgrounds work together to protect our country.

Some of my closest friends are currently serving in the military and often say they wish I could serve alongside them. A veteran I work with recently shared that I'm just as strong and qualified a candidate as any of my friends who are currently serving, and there's no reason I shouldn't be able to enlist too. These are the same conservative Americans who are frequently targeted with anti-transgender messages, and yet, they continue to express solidarity with me and approach the transgender military ban not as a wedge issue but with a sense of pragmatism that favors our national security.

Now that I've seen data that proves that this support extends far beyond my hometown, I'm more confident than ever that the ban will soon be overturned. I urge all Americans to join me in telling our leaders that supporting equality for transgender people, including ending the military ban, is not a divisive political move. It's a clear and essential next step that reflects the will of the American people and strengthens our national security.

Nicolas Talbott is an aspiring service member challenging the military's current ban on transgender service members in federal court. He lives in Lisbon, Ohio.

The views expressed in this article are the authors' own.