President Donald Trump in a surprise series of tweets announced that he was banning transgender Americans from serving in the United States military, saying that “…the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” This decision comes on the sixty-ninth anniversary of President Harry S. Truman in 1948 desegregating the United States military, and during American Heroes Week, which celebrates those who serve in the military, police, firefighters, first responders, and others who help people and serve their country. In a move which disrespects and discriminates against the 12,800 people who currently serve in our military and protect our country, President Trump has shown a clear disdain for those who have passed the military’s strong physical and mental standards to serve, and shows a clear lack of interest in protecting the civil rights of one of the most vulnerable group of Americans in the country today.
Citing the costs of transgender-related operations and medical procedures, Trump claims that his decision was based on maintaining the fiscal strength of the military. The costs however are negligible, a RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Department of Defense in 2016 finding that only $2.4 million to $8.4 million are spent out of a Defense Department health expenditure of $49.3 billion. The New England Journal of Medicine estimates that $5.6 million would be spent annually on these transition-related operations, both organizations finding that these costs have a minimal impact on the military budget. These costs also do not take into consideration that many transgender people might have received these operations prior to enlisting, or like many transgender people never seek it out in the first place. Meanwhile, speaking of fiscal responsibility, a single trip by President Trump to Mar-A-Lago costs the taxpayers $3.6 million each trip, and the military in a single year spent $84.2 million on erectile dysfunction medication, $41.6 million of which was spent on Viagra.
The “tremendous cost” that President Trump cites is incorrect, but he also cites the disruption of transgender people in the military. Similar arguments had been used in trying to prevent gay and lesbian Americans from serving, women from serving, and sixty-nine years ago from having blacks and whites serving together. In the same RAND Corporation study cited earlier, of the eighteen nations which also allow transgender people to serve—including Israel, Canada, and the United Kingdom—there have been absolutely no issues with unit cohesion or military preparedness. It is clear then that the President’s reason is flawed, based by absolutely no verifiable data, and is instead based on stereotype, a lack of understanding, and bigotry. The cause for LGBT rights was a long and difficult battle, and there is still much to be done, but the one thing out of all of this that is causing a burden is the President’s refusal to have the backs of our transgender service-members who are willing to fight for and die for this country and who are braver than most of their fellow countrymen and countrywomen.
There are an estimated 134,000 transgender veterans of the United States Armed Forces. Others—some of whom are now fighting to protect transgender people serving in the military—including Sheri Swokowski, Kristin Beck, and Sage Fox. They all served their country, a country which at the time of their service and even today still does not recognize the basic human rights of transgender individuals. They are braver than the current President of the United States, who has never served and actively avoided service in the Vietnam War. And they are braver than almost any other American who does not serve in a uniformed service. They are willing to fight and die for a country that in many ways still does not accept them, and it should be the duty of each American not just to salute them on the important holidays but to instead support them each day and to ensure that they can still serve where so many countless others will not.
In a country, today where fewer and fewer people want to serve, it is necessary that we fight for those who do. Currently transgender Americans face abnormally high rates of suicide, murder, and discrimination. Many are often not accepted by their families and are frequently disowned, some even kicked out of their homes before the age of eighteen. Discrimination exists today against transgender people because few will stand up for them, and when the President of the United States does not have their backs, then it makes it clear that nothing in terms of legislation will be done to protect them. That is why I am urging people who do believe in equal treatment under the law and are opposed to discrimination to call their members of Congress and to be kind to others and to donate what they can to organizations which help young transgender people, and to thank the veterans of our armed forces as well who are willing to serve our country unlike so many others.