On July 26, President Trump blasted yet another jaw dropping policy by Twitter, barring transgender people from serving in the military due to the “tremendous medical costs” and “disruption” they represent. This latest fiat by Trump abruptly reversed 2016 policy crafted by President Obama and then Secretary of Defense Ash Carter ordering the Department of Defense to develop guidance to allow and support transgender people to serve.
And so a historical cycle begins again.
The Fight for Desegregation
After World War II, anti segregation groups urged President Truman to desegregate the armed forces. Black veterans were targets; two vets and their wives in GA were dragged from a car and riddled with more than 60 bullets in 1947. Black civil rights activists told the nation flatly that fewer black people would serve unless Jim Crow died in the military.
Opponents of desegregation cited polls showing 63% of the military thought forces should remain segregated; issues raised ranged from interracial violence to deteriorating unit cohesion due to clashing cultures and perspectives. General Omar Bradley was widely lauded for saying the Army should follow integration in America, not lead it.
After stumbles and a slow roll into action by the armed services, the military was fully integrated by 1954. The military didn’t suffer; indeed a civil rights report written by Harry Conn in 1952 concluded that the mixed units fighting in Korea actually were more effective than segregated ones. The military didn’t suffer, but sometimes individuals did… black servicemen endured discrimination and setbacks with idiosyncratic application of policy for many years. But today, not one military or civilian official would say the armed forces should return to segregation, and rightfully so.
Beyond Traditional Roles for Women
Women suffered similar opposition to active service. The relative freedom of service in World War II was tightly curtailed in the next couple of decades. Everything from physiology to sexual assault, distraction to mental weakness was cited to keep women to support roles if any in the armed forces.
Chaplain Col Vincent Inghilterra argued against integration of basic training in 1997, claiming that women would be so limited in tackling the rigors of training that “some may be tempted to use their sexuality to garner special favors.”
As a female veteran of Operations SOUTHERN WATCH, ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM, I find these arguments laughable but they rage on today as the military attempts to eradicate sexual assault in its ranks. And yet women serve well and honorably while continuing to break barriers in Ranger School and Seal training. No loss of combat effectiveness has been noted due to women in the ranks.
Inclusion of LGBT
The next hurdle? Lesbian and gay service members labored under the nasty burden of anti-homosexual laws, followed by Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Arguably the DADT policy was an improvement on the active vetting against “feminine” characteristics that denoted homosexuality in the 1950s; such men were targeted as “sexual psychopaths” and discharged immediately.
Homosexuality existed for thousands of years in military service; the repeal of DADT in 2010 marked the US as one of the last developed nations to lift its ban on allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos lamented its repeal as a distraction (that word again!) that would cost lives. No such fears have been borne out in the seven years since.
Our trans brothers and sisters are now shouldering the burden of change. The population of trans people currently serving is hard to quantify; between 2,500 to 15,000 service members may be affected by this sudden reversal in policy.
The trans ban reasoning trumpeted on Twitter has very little basis in fact; the upper-end estimate of trans medical care cite the cost as $8.4 million annually, a drop in the bucket of a $683 billion National Defense Authorization for Fiscal Year 2018.
Medical professionals have asserted there is no valid medical reason to restrict trans personnel from service. Even less do the age-old assertions of disruption and distraction hold up to the lens of history; transgender people have served honorably and well for decades. They were granted only the right to live that truth openly. We are repeating the same ugly cycle with ever changing minorities, and refusing to learn its lessons every time.
Fight the Bigotry
Less than 3 of 10 Americans are capable medically or physically of entering the armed services. We suffer from severe personnel shortages in all the services. Restricting that number even further for the sake of fear and bigotry makes no sense and potentially denies us the talent we desperately need. As a former Airman and veteran, my brothers and sisters in arms were willing to fight beside me and for me, and that needs no qualification based on race, gender or sexuality.
Help break the cycle of bigotry – call your Congressman and your Senatorss to voice your opposition to this hateful action. Donate to the ACLU and Human Rights Campaign, who have already vowed to fight for servicemen and women impacted by any rollback in policy. Voice your support early and often for trans people, both inside and outside of the military. Together, we can protect and serve those who do the same for us.