How can I explain that transgender people will not be a burden to our military, that they will make us stronger and they are worth every penny of investment?

In the fall of 2010, my transgender daughter, Nicole, faced bullying, harassment and discrimination in Maine. Nicole wanted to attend a political rally in Deering Oaks to protest the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay troops. The keynote speaker was Lady Gaga. I had no idea what to expect, and as a fairly conservative man, I was a bit uncomfortable with the topics and the crowd.

Our family was living in hiding in Portland. People were afraid of Nicole and what she might do in their schools. They had the same unfounded fears that President Trump is displaying today over transgender Americans in our military. How do you tell a child that people in D.C., Texas and North Carolina are not willing to listen and learn?

On that day in 2010, I told her what I thought was the truth. I looked her in the eyes and said, “You have to trust our nation’s leaders and trust our governmental systems. You have to trust me.” She smiled and said, “Yes, Daddy, your job is to protect me.” She gave me a hug and I said, “Let’s go see Lady Gaga.”

I did not know much about Lady Gaga’s music. I am more of a Willie Nelson and classic rock fan. I listened as each service member told their story, how they had lost their careers and dreams. I asked myself: Why was I not willing to fight for these people’s rights? They were risking their lives, without hesitation and without any rewards, except personal satisfaction for a job well done.

That rally was personal for me because Nicole knew she was in harm’s way, and each scream of joy gave her hope that she might have a good future. It was personal for her because she went down the same road at age 9, with little control as her rights and privileges were trampled upon.

Now, seven years after that rally, our family and others still face bullying, harassment and discrimination, giving children and adults no hope for a bright future. Many of our families are still in hiding, still in court, still apart and still disappointed. Disappointed that our leaders will not address these issues – and, now, that their denial of the truth will harm our military.

I realize that facing the truth requires a great deal of work, because I had to do so myself. The leaders who I respect have the courage to take these issues head on. They faced their fears, asking themselves why they were afraid of people who are perceived as different.

If you watch and listen, you will realize transgender people are not different, and they are stronger than most of us in ways we cannot fathom. Now, to continue to serve with honor, they must do so in hiding. Transgender service members like retired Navy SEAL Kristin Beck, retired Navy pilot Brynn Tannehill and my Maine friend Jessica, a former Marine, had to serve in hiding. I know numerous transgender young adults who fight every day to stay alive; they could help service members develop the tools they need to survive in battle.

At the beginning of Lady Gaga’s speech in Portland in 2010, she read the military service oath. I proudly took that same oath in Albany, New York, some 30 years ago. When Lady Gaga read the last line of that oath, she said, “Unless you’re gay.” Now she will have to say, “Unless you are transgender.”

I was ashamed of our military and political leaders that day, and now I am again. I write this with hesitation because we have always taught our children to respect our military and our nation’s leaders. We continue to teach them to be respectful, but in a new way. We express our admiration for leaders who demonstrate their strength and commitment to full equality.

I tell Nicole and our transgender friends that they are not alone, that we will never stop fighting for equality. I will tell them that we still live in one of the greatest nations in the world and we have to have faith in our systems. My generation has failed to protect them; we embrace change slowly and we are afraid to accept new concepts and new truths. I am sorry about my generation’s failure, I will tell these young people, but I will never give up fighting to make sure they are equal in every way.