Transgender Veterans Plan March to 'Establish Their Presence'

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

( - Claiming "minority" status, the Transgender American Veterans Association said its members will march to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., this spring, to "establish the presence of transgender veterans" and to give the group "a face and voice."

"It is time our country recognizes that the transgender community has heroes who contributed to our freedoms," a press release said.

March organizers said they hope to draw a "significant group of supporters from the transgender community to honor the many transgender people who served our nation with pride and honor."

The group seeks recognition and credit for members' sacrifices in and contributions to the military.

"Due to the ongoing neglect of rights of Transgender American Veterans, this march should provide healing and recognition for those who have been and continue to be discriminated against due to their transgender status," the group said.

Monica Helms, president of TAVA, said, "This event marks the first time transgender veterans will gather as a group to show that they exist. Although the march will not make an overt political statement, the presence of these veterans will be noticed, and their quiet message will be heard."

Among other concerns, the group has criticized the way transgender veterans are treated by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

The Veterans Department is prohibited by law from performing "sex reassignment" surgery. Although other treatments, such as gender identity disorder counseling and hormone therapy, are not prohibited, it "appears to be strongly discouraged by VA headquarters," the press release said.