Transgender ban weakens military, hurts all Americans

Editor’s note: This was originally published in the Sept. 21 issue of The Campus Weekly.

In late July, President Trump tweeted that “the United States Government will not accept or allow…Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

Almost a month later, he issued an official White House memo directing the Pentagon to begin the process of implementing a ban. In the tweets, Trump cited “tremendous medical costs” and the need for “decisive and overwhelming…victory” as reasons for the ban.

The ban would roll back policy changes introduced under President Obama which allowed for the gradual inclusion of transgender people in the military, including their open and successful integration into military units and support for their unique healthcare needs.

Trump’s order appears driven, at least in part, by a desire to please certain factions of his supporters rather than by sound policy considerations – not to mention to distract from a perpetually alarming news cycle.

It appears to have been issued unilaterally, without consulting the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Department of Defense, and without the support of Congress (a Congress which is now tasked with implementing the ban with few concrete policy directives from the President).

The directive has faced significant opposition since its inception. Just last week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) joined an existing bipartisan coalition in introducing a bill that seeks to prevent the ban.

McCain’s support of the bill has brought renewed attention to an issue about which many might have forgotten. This week, the issue is especially pertinent here at SMU, given that Dallas Pride was last weekend.

When I talk to people about LGBTQ issues, I often hear something like “But it only affects three percent of the population.”

Some people think, in other words, that these are small problems. They think that since they themselves aren’t affected, the trans ban is one headline issue they can easily ignore.

But the impact of Mr. Trump’s messy attempt at a transgender ban should not be underestimated.

Since the President issued that initial tweet, valuable time and resources have been wasted trying to backtrack on an issue that was on its way to being resolved.

The tweet, and the subsequent memo, left White House and Pentagon officials scrambling to understand the implications of the President’s directive. It left them wasting time trying to contain the President’s mess, and flailing to communicate clarity and operational cohesion to the American people and foreign governments.

In short: it wasted the military’s time. It continues to waste the military’s time. It continues to waste Congress’s time.

The military is indeed entrusted with ensuring “decisive and overwhelming…victory.” It faces very real and increasingly urgent threats – North Korea prominent among them.

Under President Obama’s directive, transgender people were on their way to becoming more completely integrated and cared for. Things weren’t perfect, but they were getting there.

After Mr. Trump’s tweet, the military finds itself in an uncertain place. It appears jumbled and unorganized – because it is and the only constant is confusion. From the outside, at least, the U.S. military appears weaker and less effective than it was before Mr. Trump acted on his notorious tweeting impulse.

Paradoxically, the “ban” hasn’t done much besides create confusion and fear. Trans people in the military aren’t going anywhere anytime soon (Feb. 18, 2018 at the earliest).

Indeed, if Mr. Trump wants his ban to actually take effect, he has considerable work to do: actual, rolling-up-his-sleeves work toward crafting real policy.

Even if he does that – which he has time and time again proven unwilling to do – he faces a considerable battle against a bipartisan coalition of senators, as well as legal challenges that could make his immigration ban fiasco look tame.

This, of course, is to say nothing of the considerable distress and confusion the haphazard nature of the ban has caused to trans people themselves.

They, paradoxically, often get overlooked in discussions of the ban. They certainly get overlooked whenever someone thinks “Oh, that only affects a small percentage of the population, so I can ignore it.”

Even if you do not have trans friends – or better yet, do not think you do – you live and study on a campus with many trans people who were likely (and understandably) hurt in a profound and intimate way by this ban.

To not care about the ban is to not care about them – a profound failure of empathy on a campus notorious for propagating social structures of exclusion, intimidation and elitism.

In other words, the trans ban ought to matter here especially – not just because it weakens our military’s capacity to perform its work well, but because it affects our fellow students and our friends.

One final note: several intelligent commentators have conveyed this entire issue as some sort of ‘PC’ social experiment. Such thinking misunderstands the history of trans people and persists in treating them as political pawns, rather than the citizens, autonomous bodies and people that they are.

Let me say this clearly: trans people in the military do no constitute a social experiment. They have been there for a long time, serving their country well – all without support for their identities or their comprehensive healthcare needs.

Imagine what they could do if they were supported and affirmed like their fellow soldiers. If they didn’t have to hide, or live with constant uncertainty of their safety, employment security and well-being.

The phrase is common, and perhaps even worn, but in times like these we can’t remind ourselves enough.

Representation and support matter, and it’s up to people with a public voice to contribute in whatever way they can – no matter how small – to a more accepting world. So I say:

Trans people are not a burden. Trans people are not a burden.

And again, always:

Trans people are not a burden.

Tell us what you think.