U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois — the first Thai American elected to Congress, the first congresswoman with a disability and the first senator to give birth while in office — spoke with Amanda Zamora, publisher of The 19th, from her dining room table. Her two daughters, ages 2 and 5, made surprise appearances as Duckworth spoke about the pandemic, women and LGBTQ+ service members and the politicization of the military.
In a conversation part of The 19th Represents Summit, Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, called President Donald Trump’s use of the military in response to peaceful protests in Lafayette Square unacceptable.
“The military is an impartial, nonpolitical arm of the United States that is supposed to be protecting and defending the American people,” she said. “They should not be used to go out there and suppress peaceful protesters who were exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Duckworth said that the military didn’t do enough in response to the murder of Vanessa Guillen, a soldier stationed at Texas’ Fort Hood whose dismembered and burned remains were found months after she disappeared. The senator noted that the military didn’t conduct a search for her like they would’ve looked for a missing rifle, which typically necessitates a total unit lockdown.
“Everyone in the military needs to be protected from sexual assault,” Duckworth said. “Women are definitely vulnerable and are victims of military sexual trauma, but so are men. There are LGBTQ crimes. We need to make sure that the military is assault free.”
When Duckworth served as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs under the Obama administration, she said she noticed many VA hospitals and health centers lacked images of women service members on the walls. She pushed to make sure women and people of color were more visible as veterans and worked to put at least one woman veteran in every women’s health clinic.
“I think we’re going to continue to have problems until we have more diversity in the top ranks of the military,” Duckworth said. “Until we have more women in leadership — more women who are the platoon leaders, platoon sergeants, commanders and more women four star generals — to really force this change to happen.”