Michelle Daytona served in the Army from 1997 to 2005 in Bosnia, Kosovo, Korea and Iraq.
She got a medical discharge when an IED blew up nearby, injuring her. 12 years later, she still has constant pain in her back and legs.
When Daytona got home, she began her transition — a process she’d fantasized about since she was 7 years old.
Her Army beret resting just above her black sunglasses, a black button down blouse tucked into a long black skirt, Daytona says she drove up from Columbia, Missouri, to support her fellow service members who are transgender.
"I was secretly transgender (during my years of service) because I did not want to ruin my career,” she says. “I had to hide that I was a woman because of safety reasons.”
Several hundred people, some transgender, others there to show their support, gathered around the J.C. Nichols Fountain Sunday night. They marched through the retail and restaurant areass of the Plaza carrying signs with messages like "#Respect" and “Trans people are not a burden.”
The march was organized by the City of Fountains Sisters, an LGBTQ activist and charity organization. Novice Sister Cupcake — wearing a white painted face with rainbow stripes — says Kansas City has a large LGBTQ community and is increasingly accepting.
“The event was shared like 500 times on Facebook,” she says. “I think it’s telling that there are people that are interested in these causes … and in being helpful … not to just come and laugh at us.”
Last month, President Donald Trump tweeted an announcement that he was reviving a ban on transgender people serving openly in the military.
On Sunday, Lambda Legal, an advocacy group for the LGBTQ community, said it would challenge the president’s order in court.
Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. Reach her on Twitter @laurazig or email email@example.com