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Let's explore the facts: trans people in the military

Jul. 27, 2017
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Using his preferred method of communication, Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that the United States cannot “accept or allow” transgender people to serve in the armed forces. Since the statements were made hastily, the White House is scrambling to make sense of how this policy will be implemented and answer questions from outraged advocacy groups and the general public. Trump insisted that his decision was based on the defense budget’s inability to accommodate the medical needs of these individuals and expressed the sentiment that trans people are a “disruption” to the military agenda. This series of tweets is infuriating for a number of reasons, and it now necessitates that the American people acknowledge both the immediate and the long-term implications of these actions.    

The conservative agenda has generally condoned military spending and often lobbied for increased funding for the armed forces. In this recent development, the “SUPPORT OUR TROOPS” rallying cry seems to have given way to a more exclusionary subtext. 

Air Force Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland is among the estimated 12,800 transgender service members waiting to see what the Pentagon does. (Photo courtesy Logan Ireland)

This announcement targeting the rights and livelihoods of the LGBTQIA+ community comes in the wake of yet another attempt to repeal Obamacare, which failed to garner enough Senate approval. With Trump fighting an uphill battle for approval, the readiness to attack the rights of an already marginalized sector of society feels like a low blow. In 2011, the Obama administration repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, thereby allowing people identifying as gay, lesbian and bisexual to serve openly in the military. It wasn’t until June of 2016 that transgendered people were allowed the same right after a study was published indicating that the medical needs of trans servicemembers would have a negligible influence on military health care spending.

Now for most Americans, the search for rationality in Trump’s decisions is almost a lost cause. With this decision in particular, Trump’s policies and actions are incredibly hypocritical. For every trip Trump takes to his vacation properties using Air Force One, American taxpayers are spending $200,000 per hour just in transportation alone. The New York Police Department reported spending roughly $146,000 every day on protection for the First Lady and her son, who have chosen to live in New York rather than reside in the White House with the President. Even on the more expensive end of the spectrum, gender reassignment surgeries and hormone therapy cost significantly less than an hour of air travel for the president or a day of police protection for the First Family. Our country has a defense budget of almost $600 billion, which is over 50% of our country’s discretionary spending. Compared to only 6% of our financial resources allocated to healthcare and another 6% on housing and community, the military holds a monopoly over every single other element of American society. The cost projection of allowing transgender people to serve in the military is about $8.4 million, which is about 0.001% of the total military budget. A 2014 study indicated that there are about 15,500 trans people currently serving in the military, which boasts a total of 1.3 million active-duty members and another 800,000 in the reserves. 

via: Vet House Inc

Furthermore, it is impossible to credit the government with having the best interests of service members in mind given that there are 50,000 veterans sleeping on the streets on any given night in this country. Many of these veterans are suffering from mental illness as a direct result of serving in active duty, and many more have sustained serious injuries that have rendered them disabled. It is estimated that 19% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan sustained a traumatic brain injury, and 7% presented with both PTSD and brain injury. Upon returning from active combat, around 39% of veterans succumb to substance abuse. The idea that serving alongside a transgender person in the armed forces is somehow more disruptive than facing the reality of mental illness, bodily injury and inability to reintegrate into society is a very short-sighted mentality. The cost of providing retroactive health and social services for armed service veterans should be prioritized, not discounted and devalued. 

The military is rife with conflict as it pertains to sexism. Toxic masculinity is largely to blame for many of the issues that plague our armed forces: About 6% of active-duty men and women report unwanted sexual contact at the hands of their superiors or fellow servicemembers, which is much higher than many originally believed. Given that rape and sexual assault are by far the most underreported and unpunished of all violent crimes, it can be inferred that the number of those who suffer in silence is actually much higher. With the added influence of a tight-lipped power structure, punishment for disobedience and fear of ostracization the military makes for a perfect storm of domination and abuse. Complaints are rarely taken seriously, and investigations into foul play are often carried out by the very people who commit atrocities. As a result, victims are regularly discredited or silenced in favor of protecting the reputation of military leaders. The outdated mentality used to justify preventing trans people from serving in the military used to be that trans people were “sexual deviants”—but if the concern is for the safety of service members who may be sexually violated in the line of duty, shouldn’t the focus be shifted towards those who regularly and repeatedly commit acts of sexual deviance within the existing system? Shouldn’t the military then be focused on combating the misogynistic and heteronormative attitudes of those within the ranks of the armed services? 

Shouldn’t our resources be allocated to pursuing courses of action to prevent sexual assault within the military and bringing offenders to justice?

via: SF Examiner

Finally, the Trump administration has proven remarkably clever at disguising bigoted actions as some type of perverse safety precaution. See also: the attempt to bar travelers and visa holders from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States; Religious Freedom Acts allowing discrimination on the basis of religion; the proposition that we build a wall on the southern border of our country to limit illegal immigration. Banning a group of people from exercising their rights as American citizens is nothing new to this administration, and those in power seem to be banking on the support from our nation’s most closed-minded and misinformed. But let us be clear: placing restrictions on groups of people based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, country of origin, appearance or medical history is unconstitutional discrimination. This ban on military service was never truly about saving money and preventing distractions—it’s about reducing transgender people to secondary-citizen status and denying them the rights and freedoms afforded to cisgender citizens. Trans people have now taken the heat for the injustices within the military and have become a scapegoat for all the heinous practices that go on behind the closed doors of the White House and the Pentagon.

This outburst of intolerance is merely a dangerous and damaging distraction from the attacks on our health care, the ongoing investigation into Russia’s involvement in our political system, and many failed campaign promises from an ineffective and increasingly unpopular President. It was never about the medical costs of transgender soldiers, it was never about ensuring military prestige, and it was never about supporting the men and women of the U.S. Military.