On Friday August 25th, Donald Trump signed a memo ordering the military to prohibit any open transgender individual from joining the military. Despite the fact that Secretary of Defense James Mattis was supposed to complete a 6-month time to study the impact of transgender people on the military, the President, as he often does, decided to screw over his advisors and do what he wants.
A Brief Recap:
Back in July, Trump made national news by announcing a policy action over Twitter. Claiming that “victory cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption,” the President, apparently without any consultation from any of the Pentagon (nor Mattis, who was on vacation at the time), decided these false claims about trans individuals warranted a total ban on them in the military. In July, Politico wrote that the President did this in order to compromise with House Republicans in order to get a spending bill passed, which included money for his campaign promise of a border wall.
Immediately, Senator Orrin Hatch (UT) denounced this ‘policy’ change, calling it clear discrimination and stating that “transgender people are people.” Hatch was one of many critics of this ban, including Kristin Beck, a transwoman who served in the US Navy SEALS for twenty years. Beck declared that during her service in the military, “I wasn’t male or female. I wasn’t anything. I was just a SEAL,” and went on to condemn the President’s actions as hateful.
Do transgender individuals significantly impede military readiness and/or cost enough to justify a ban?
This question is at the forefront of debate. Apparently, many people (including Trump) believe transgender soldiers are an inherent disruption to the military. However, this claim contradicts recent non-partisan evidence.
A 2016 study by the RAND Corporation found that allowing transgender soldiers would have a “minimal impact on readiness and health care costs.” Indeed, the study found that the cost for hormone treatment and gender-confirmation surgeries would only be “between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, representing an approximate 0.13-percent increase.” Despite this study, Missouri Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler insists the cost would be $1.35 billion over the next ten years , nearly a 200% difference between the two estimates. When asked about the source of her data, Rep. Hartzler only pointed to one study done by Family Research Council (FRC), a report which openly states it “has concerns about the psychological fitness of persons who identify as transgender to serve,” which proves this source to be very biased and not non-partisan like RAND.
Moreover, these studies on the cost of surgeries should not be the justification for an outright ban on transgender individuals, as they are only concerned with the cost of transition surgery and do not have any statistics regarding how many members of the military are opposed to serving alongside transgender individuals. Thus, even if we take FRC’s cost at face value, that would only support a restriction on the military’s ability to pay for surgery and not an outright ban on those who wish to be recruited.
Current Challengers to the Ban
Democrats from both the House and Senate have come out against the ban, citing it as clear discrimination and against the principles of our nation’s military. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (IL), declared:
“When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk helicopter after I was shot down, I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white or brown.”
Duckworth was an Iraq war veteran who lost both legs during a helicopter crash. Even some Republicans like John McCain have called for implementation of this policy to be delayed until Secretary Mattis’ investigation finishes, and claims the ban is a step in the wrong direction. Aside from politicians, the American Civil Liberties Union has announced two different suits regarding the ban, both of which either involve current transgender members of the military or those with interest in joining the military. On August 29th, Secretary Mattis announced the ban will not go into effect and that his study will continue.
This ban is entirely transphobic. The very fact that this policy would prevent 1.4 million people from joining the military simply based on their gender identity is most definitely discrimination. Furthermore, the justifications for this ban are entirely ridiculous.
First, transgender individuals do not necessarily choose to transition; some are happy to stay in their current biological bodies and do not pursue treatment (a fact that is echoed by the RAND report). Second, a study by Military Times finds that the military spends five times as much money on Viagra as it would hypothetically spend on transgender troops. I cannot think of any possible reason as to why having the ability to be happy with one’s own sex and gender is in any way less important than erectile dysfunction… Finally, transgender soldiers are STILL SOLDIERS. They train, fight, and die for the rights of the American people, and thus should have the ability to live however they want.
If we allow this ban to come into effect, we essentially are saying that those who sacrifice their own lives for our nation are not worth spending an extra $8 million on. While some may argue that they are a “distraction,” I find that argument to be completely unwarranted. No evidence suggests that soldiers are unwilling to accept someone who is transgender, and even if they are, that does not justify discriminating against people who already face heavy scrutiny in our country. Perhaps I am simply too much of a progressive to understand their argument, but I firmly believe in civil rights and any recruitment ban on a particular group for ANY reason goes against the very foundation of equal protection under the law.