On Jan. 22, the United States Department of Defense stated the following regarding its change in transgender policy following a Supreme Court ruling:
“As always, we treat all transgender persons with respect and dignity,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Carla Gleason. “DOD’s proposed policy is not a ban on service by transgender persons. It is critical that DOD be permitted to implement personnel policies that it determines are necessary to ensure the most lethal and combat-effective fighting force in the world.”
The policy does indeed allow people to serve in the military – as long as they serve as their “biological sex,” or the sex they were assigned at birth. Since transgender people are defined as those who identify as a gender other than the one they were born as, the policy forces transgender people to serve denying their transgender identity.
Thus, the Jan. 22 SCOTUS ruling forces transgender people to serve as closeted versions of themselves. Despite how that’s only three years ago, the policy is whiplash after the Obama administration’s Secretary of Defense Ash Carter urged transgender people to serve openly in 2016.
And yet, the Trump administration discourages transgender people from the military supposedly due to medical costs. According to President Donald Trump’s original tweet banning transgender military personnel in June of 2017:
“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. 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.”
However, Trump’s claims aren’t based in fact. According to a 2015 study in the “New England Journal of Medicine,” the approximate cost of transgender healthcare is $4.2 - $5.6 million out of the military’s $48.8 billion annual budget for 2017. Of the 12,800 transgender service members eligible for medical care, only 188 service members use transition-related care per year.
These transition-related costs are about $438 per transgender service member yearly, including costs of both hormone distribution and gender reassignment surgery. This adds up to 22 cents per service member monthly when spread out among the entire service force. The “tremendous medical costs” transgender people incur are negligible in reality.
The “disruption” the president mentions is vague -- it could be the act of transitioning itself or the mere presence of transgender people in the military. It’s unclear. However, transitioning would be a net positive considering it’s relative low cost. Mental health for transgender individuals statistically improves after they come out, according to Cornell University. It seems that banning trans troops not only curbs eligible people from serving in the military but removes healthcare options for those who may realize their gender identity while serving.
Since the transgender military ban isn’t rooted in rational financial or mental concerns, the ban comes from an irrational transphobia. Such transphobia sets the precedent for further discrimination, adding fuel to Trump’s anti-trans agenda.
The transgender military ban is not logical, fact-based or scientific. Of course it wouldn’t be, because, as we’ve seen with Trump’s attitude toward climate change and building the border wall, few things the president does is rooted in empirical logic.
Rather, Trump’s actions are aligned with the backward thinking platform he built his campaign on, where the rights and freedoms historically marginalized people enjoy now (such as transgender troops openly serving in the military) destroy the “greatness” of America’s current form.
The transgender military ban is as repugnant a legacy to leave in his presidency as the longest lasting government shutdown in history. I can only hope that the next presidential administration has the sense to make America great again for transgender people after Trump.