In one sweep President Donald Trump dismantled trans-inclusion in the armed services, quickly reversing years of advocacy and research that facilitated the reversal of the ban under the Obama administration last year. In pandering to the conservative right, and in direct contradiction to his campaign promise to protect LGBTQ citizens from violence and oppression, the transphobic tweets labeled the American soldiers as a disruptive burden to the military, citing *tremendous* medical costs.
Last June, in ending the ban on transgender Americans serving in the United States military, the Department of Defense announced that “open service by transgender Service members, while being subject to the same standards and procedures as other members with regard to their medical fitness for duty, physical fitness, uniform and grooming, deployability, and retention, is consistent with military readiness.” This announcement was made after “comprehensive and inclusive” research was conducted, seeking the advice and leadership of the Armed Services, medical experts and personnel experts at the DoD, testimony from transgender Service members, outside medical experts, advocacy groups, and the RAND Corporation.
You might be wondering what the Secretary of Defense, Retired General James Mattis who supports trans service, was thinking when he advised the president to reinstate the ban, seemingly on a whim. Had he come across data that was in direct contradiction to the DoD research in the last seven months? Surprisingly (or not), even Mattis was sidelined during this decision as the president’s reversal was intended to coax House Republicans to pass a “spending bill stacked with his campaign promises, including money to build his border wall with Mexico,” according to Politico. Reportedly, the Pentagon was also unaware of the announcement.
Over 150,000 transgender individuals have served in the United States military, according to a U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. A president who devalues the service and sacrifice of his own country’s military members as a disruption and burden to the nation lacks a fundamental dedication to patriotism. Instead, this continued stigmatization reflects an ideology that stems from conservative lobbying (following Trump’s election, religious conservatives lobbied to ban trans members of the military).
Critics were quick to point out the fallacy in the president’s claim of transgender service as entailing “tremendous medical costs.” In the past year, the estimated cost of paying for medication and surgery for transgender members has hovered near $8.4 million. To put this into perspective, keep in mind that the government spends the following:
- $42 million per year on name-brand Viagra for soldiers + $42 million per year on erectile dysfunction drugs in general for soldiers = $84 million
- $3.6 million on each of the president’s golf trips
- $3.8 billion per year in U.S. military aid to Israel
Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project issued the following statement on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union:
“This is an outrageous and desperate action. The thousands of transgender service members serving on the front lines for this country deserve better than a commander-in-chief who rejects their basic humanity.
Let us be clear. This has been studied extensively, and the consensus is clear: There are no cost or military readiness drawbacks associated with allowing trans people to fight for their country. The president is trying to score cheap political points on the backs of military personnel who have put their lives on the line for their country.
There is no basis for turning trans people away from our military and the ACLU is examining all of our options on how to fight this. For any trans service member affected by today’s announcement: Please get in touch with us, because we want to hear from you.”
Just 12 hours after the president’s tweets-to-policy attack on American soldiers, the president’s right-hand man, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an amicus brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect “homosexuals” from discrimination in the workplace. This is in direct contrast to the rulings of the court for at least the past 15 years, in which the courts have set a precedent of protection of queer employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In using the term “homosexual” the Department of Justice brings a bigoted past, in which anti-LGBT discrimination was legal, to the present and violates the safety and dignity of queer folks everywhere.
Surely this will be remembered in history as a mass assault on the basic human rights of LGBTQ citizens by the president of the United States himself.
This morning, upon reading about about the ban against transgender service members, I was pulled into my criticism of the U.S. military complex as a whole, as an imperialist structure targeting the lives of Queer Trans People of Color (QTPOC) across the globe. While remaining deeply critical of U.S. foreign policy as an extension of military influence, I know that I can remain committed to advocating for the inclusion and protection of trans people in all spaces and in every facet of their lives, whether they are a soldier or civilian, and whether they reside in the United States or a nation the U.S. is bombing – or somewhere in-between.
The violence that the administration has weaponized against LGBTQ people is nothing less than an extension of the violence targeting undocumented immigrants (remember that the wall along the Mexico border will most likely be funded as a direct result of this ban), the violence that is waged on young low-income Brown and Black boys through the draft of the poor or the violence that is perpetrated against Muslims through incited Islamophobia or military aggression.
While remaining deeply critical of U.S. foreign policy as an extension of military influence, I know that I can remain committed to advocating for the inclusion and protection of trans people in all spaces.
The resilience and futures of these interconnected communities all come to surface when the president so readily and recurringly violates our civil liberties and human rights, and while I remain cautious of “supporting our troops” because it often means sending people of color to kill my people, I ardently stand with protecting trans people and troops today and every day. They matter. And whether they are injured or killed on the battlefield, or simply trying to live their lives (as transgender people, particularly trans women of color are being killed now more than ever before), their sacrifices matter.
If you or someone you know are struggling in response to Trump’s attack on transgender service in the military, you can reach out to the Trevor Project, that has a 24/7 text or call support-line: (866) 488-7386.