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Gender Status Doesn’t Distract the Military. Hiding Who You Are Does

4 minute read
Pritzker, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army, is President of TAWANI Enterprises and Chair of the Pritzker Military Museum & Library.

On July 26, President Donald Trump announced that he plans to ban transgender people from serving “in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” He tweeted, “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” As a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army, I agree with the President that our military needs to be focused on victory. But as also a transgender woman who hid her identity as she served, I don’t see how my gender status can disrupt that objective.

Being openly transgender is not nearly as distracting to soldiers as the President announcing that we will no longer be able to do the job we’ve been hired to do. The research has shown that service by transgender personnel will not harm combat readiness, morale or discipline and that it will impose no significant financial burden on the defense budget. A 2014 study conducted by the Williams Institute estimated that there’s about 15,500 transgender military personnel currently serving in either active duty or in reserve. Now please tell me who will fill those boots? Approximately 8,800 active-duty service members are transgender, thus making the Defense Department the single largest employer of transgender people in the U.S., according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Additionally, a 2015 study shows that the financial burden that he speaks of is almost non-existent. The annual healthcare budget for the armed services is close to $47 billion. The monthly increase on healthcare will be 22 cents per service member. Transition care for soldiers is projected to cost around $5.6 million a year. That is not even a blip on the radar compared to the $84 million a year the Department of Defense currently spends erectile dysfunction treatments, according to an analysis by the Military Times in 2015. It is even less compared to the nearly $900 million the Department of Defense was forced to spend on sexual misconduct for former military personnel in 2010 alone. And that $900 million does not even include the costs for victims that are still serving in the military. Transgender bodies are not the problem.

As Commander in Chief, it is reckless and irresponsible for the President to completely disregard military protocol and unilaterally declare a transgender service ban without even consulting Secretary of Defense James Mattis or other military leaders. They are far more educated on the subject than President Trump. Not consulting with them before sending out those ignorant tweets shows a complete lack of judgment on the President’s part. Our military is known for protecting the marginalized, so why aren’t we doing more to protect our marginalized transgender community?

I believe in our armed services. I had to hide who I was in order to serve, but I did what I felt I had to do to serve my calling on this earth. Having to hide my true self is the biggest distraction I faced when I served in the military. Transgender military personnel put a ton of pressure on themselves just so they don’t accidentally say the wrong thing, use the wrong pronoun or act out of character. When President Obama lifted the ban in June 2016, that pressure was finally lifted off the current transgender servicemen and women.

There are thousands of transgender veterans who have made enormous personal sacrifice to serve their country by subordinating their personal identities to service to our nation. They and those currently in the armed forces have served honorably — many with distinction and heroism. They are no different from other military personnel.

Instead of fear or discrimination, I would like express gratitude to every man and woman who serves our nation, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. To all transgender military personnel: Stay strong. I will do my best to fight on your behalf.

And to President Trump: I extend my hand. If you want to show everyone that you are a man of your word, take into consideration not only what I have to say but the other veterans and active-duty, transgender service members speaking out. If you don’t, it will only look like another example of partisan politics taking priority over facts and doing what’s right.

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