President Trump announced on Twitter yesterday that he would no longer “accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the the U.S. military.” After allegedly consulting with military experts, he rationalized this reversal of an Obama-era policy by citing “tremendous medical costs” and the general disruption of having trans people in the military. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders further justified the decision by stating that transgender service “erodes military readiness and unit cohesion.” Trump’s announcement follows a six-month delay in the recruitment of trans soldiers.
Tweets obviously do not have the force of law, and Trump would need to sign an executive order or sign a law passed by Congress for this ban to go into effect. Nevertheless, it rests on faulty (if any) reasoning and is nothing short of a grotesque violation of the rights of trans Americans. First, on the medical costs: according to a 2016 Rand Corporation study, the cost of providing gender transition operations and hormone therapy for trans soldiers would total about $8.4 million per year. That’s approximately one-thousandth of one percent of the military’s total annual budget. For reference, the military spends about ten times that on erectile dysfunction medication. In other words, these “tremendous” costs would represent a drop in the bucket compared to other spending, and the increases in military spending that Trump has called for would more than cover them.
Second, on disruption: this is both a flawed and dangerous argument. The Rand study puts the number of active duty trans service members between 1,320 and 6,630, but a 2014 study by a UCLA law school think tank estimates that 15,500 active duty service members are transgender. If trans soldiers were such a huge distraction and disruption to military readiness and unit cohesion that they would irreparably undermine our armed forces, wouldn’t we have already seen signs of such a thing?
Additionally, this “military is not a social experiment” talking point that defenders of the ban have trotted out sounds eerily similar to the arguments people used against allowing black, female, and gay Americans to serve in the military. When Truman desegregated the military in 1948, Senator Lister Hill of Alabama condemned the action by claiming that doing so would “seriously impair the morale of the Army at a time when our armed forces should be at their strongest and most efficient.” During the 1990’s, plenty of people cited sexual distractions and physiological differences as a reason to keep women out of the military. With the issue of gay and lesbian service, current Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats once said that the “introduction of sexual attraction” within small units “destroys” military cohesion, making the assumption that gay men can’t control their sexual urges. Yet time and again, the fears of these social conservatives have failed to materialize.
Some proponents of Trump’s announcement have taken to social media to argue that the ban is justified because certain mental and behavioral illnesses preclude people from serving in the military, making the assumption that being transgender is a mental illness. Are you kidding me??? It’s 2017; it should go without saying that being transgender is NOT a mental illness and that gender and biological sex are two different things that don’t necessarily match up for some people. And that’s perfectly okay. Some trans people may suffer from dysphoria from being born differently than how they identify, but that’s less a mental illness and more the product of society’s unwillingness to accept them. If an individual is comfortable in their identity and is both willing and physically capable to serve their country, I see absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t.
Because there is minimal justification for this ban, it seems likely that Trump is attempting to distract both the media and his supporters from his failures on healthcare. He campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare, and so far a unified GOP government has continually failed to actually do anything. With the Senate constantly voting down repeal proposals, creating a media frenzy around banning transgender individuals from serving in the military diverts the media’s—and his supporters’—attention from Trump’s inability to win (lol) and failure to deliver on campaign promises. That’s politics (hey, maybe Trump is getting better at this politician thing!).
Unfortunately, Trump’s politicking appeals to the worst elements of his base while also going against another one of his campaign promises. There has always been a deep-seated animus toward the transgender community emanating from the Right, from the social and religious conservatives who view it as an affront to societal norms to the anti-P.C. alt-righters who hate everyone that isn’t a straight white right-wing cis male. Trump’s announcement validates these people and their deplorable views, discriminating against transgender individuals in the process.
Transgender Americans should be free to serve their country just like their cisgender counterparts. It’s ironic that the very people that love our military and glorify service attempt to exclude certain people from serving their country. This selective patriotism is extremely hypocritical; if anything, the transgender Americans that dedicate their lives to serving this country so we can enjoy our freedoms are millions of times more patriotic than these transphobes.