On Wednesday, President Trump declared a ban on transgender servicemembers when he tweeted the following:
After consultation with my Generals [sic] and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender [sic] individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military [sic]. 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. Thank you [sic]
In light of the surprise these tweets elicited from senior leaders in every branch of service, we have to question which of “his” Generals he actually spoke with regarding this issue. It certainly wasn’t “his” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dunford, who quickly responded with a memo to senior leaders which reads in part:
There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance…In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.
General Dunford’s statement declares explicitly that Secretary Mattis has yet to receive direction regarding this issue from the White House. In fact, it sounds like both he and Secretary Mattis were blindsided.
So, we have to ask ourselves, what was the point of these tweets?
Was it simply to unsettle the somewhere between 1,500 and 15,000 active duty transgender servicemembers and their families? If so, I’m sure they can claim mission accomplished. But somehow, I doubt this was their sole intention.
Anyone familiar with the military as an institution recognizes that it is a bureaucratic behemoth. It neither makes snap decisions, nor implements policy without a thorough review process. Issues such as protocols for transgender servicemembers tend to elicit lengthy studies and statistical analyses. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the Pentagon solicited the RAND Corporation to complete a study on precisely this issue. Their findings, published in June 2016, state that transgender troops cost little extra in medical treatment and do not disrupt mission readiness.
So, why all the hullabaloo? Personally, I can think of only one thing: That our military is being used as a pawn in the administration’s current healthcare battle. A critical vote happened in the Senate this morning, and these inflammatory tweets were a well-timed smokescreen to redirect public attention.
It’s a ploy that might have been successful, if not for the bravery of one American veteran. This morning, Senator John McCain cast the deciding vote to kill his party’s bill that would repeal a portion of the Affordable Care Act.
So, what now?
We can be sure the healthcare battle will continue, but the question is, will we allow our military to be used as pawns in this fashion? Will we sit back and say nothing as the administration makes threats against our own?
Some may think that because the number of transgender servicemembers is relatively small, I’m being hyperbolic. But I’m sure that these tweets felt both confusing and threatening to active duty transgender servicemembers and their families. And just because they are few, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve our protection and our outrage.
Many of us know transgender servicemembers, and, just like every other well-trained servicemember, we understand the value they bring. If the White House passes official guidance to the Department of Defense about this issue, I have no doubt that “Trump’s Generals” will get in line. But until then, we should all speak out against the administration’s exploitation of part of our military family.