Tobin is director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality.
President Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that “the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” The messages, quickly denounced by leading members of Congress from both major parties, confused military leaders — who had not been informed of the change in policy. It also confused many Americans. Why pink-slip thousands of military service members for no reason other than who they are? Why reject the values of honor and integrity, while undermining the readiness the President is pretending to protect?
The justifications, when they weren’t transparently cruel, have largely relied on myths. Here are four of the most persistent among them, and why they’re wrong — if not dangerous.
1. That it improves preparedness. Currently, over 15,000 transgender people serve in the U.S. armed services, and Trump is attempting to make policy through Twitter that would overturn the current military policy. At a time when 0.4% of the U.S. population serves in uniform, removing highly trained, well-qualified, and deeply committed service members does nothing to increase readiness — in fact, it does the opposite.
2. That it’s the American thing to do. In the military, there are supposed to be no distinctions among service members — all are Americans serving their country. Like their comrades, transgender service members have committed their lives to serving, and the armed services have invested tremendously in training them. Ending their careers simply because of who they are is an appalling attack on our military and on our nation’s values. It is about bigotry, rather than military readiness, reason or science. It is indefensible, and it cannot stand.
3. That it saves Americans money. No facts support the President’s claim that healthcare costs will increase untenably if transgender military members continue to serve openly. A 2016 study by the Rand Corporation projected that transition-related healthcare spending would make up only 0.005–0.017% of the Defense Department’s health care budget. This is medical care prescribed by military doctors and supported by every major medical association. No one begrudges our troops their health and medical care — singling out transgender troops is irrational and wrong.
4. That it preserves unit cohesion. “Military and political leaders insisted that lifting DADT would undermine cohesion, recruitment and retention, but none of these concerns were borne out and the change was uniformly hailed for improving readiness,” said Army Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, retired Army Major Gen. Gale Pollock and retired Army Brig. Gen. Clara Adams-Ender in a recent public statement. The Rand study and actual experience by the Defense Department have shown that soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are serving with their units and commanding officers, and serving well.
We have qualified and trained transgender service members already in place, as well as transgender Americans who are able and willing to join and serve their country. Retaining talented service members — rather than kicking them out them simply because of their gender identity — is the right thing for the country.
As Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said this week, “Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity.”
Our service members and their families deserve better. Transgender people are our friends, neighbors and coworkers. Transgender veterans have served with honor, and active duty transgender service members make sacrifices daily. When it comes to being able to serve their country, we should be proud of their service.