Trump’s Ban is Already Ruining Transgender People’s Lives in the Military

The recent decision by President Trump to reinstate a ban on transgendered people serving in the military has stirred up widespread controversy both in and outside the military – and the President is likely to find himself on the wrong side of public opinion and American history.

Trump’s announcement reversed a decision made in the final months of the Obama Administration that allowed transgendered individuals to serve in the military openly. On June 30, 2016, the Department of Defense issued the following statement:

‘As a result of the yearlong study, I’m announcing today that we are ending the ban on transgender Americans in the United States military. Effective immediately, transgender Americans may serve openly, and they can no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender.’

There is no concrete data on how many transgendered people serve in the military. Bloomberg reported that a 2014 study by the Williams Institute estimated that 15,500 trans people were in the armed forces, with about 60% of that number being on active duty and the balance serving in the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve.

In a tweet announcing his decision, Trump referred to “the tremendous medical costs” that transgendered service members would incur. However, a study by the Rand Organization countered the President’s assertion by finding that medical costs for transgendered service personnel would add at most $8.4 million to the total medical costs of active duty service members, or about 0.1 percent of the military’s total medical bill.

Until the Obama administration reversed the long-standing ban on transgendered military personnel, the U.S. was part of the majority of countries that banned trans individuals from serving in the military. A 2014 study by The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies showed that out of the 103 countries studied, only 18 allowed transgendered personnel to serve in the military.

However, the ban on transgendered people serving in the military has never proved fully effective in preventing gender defiers from serving their country. Albert Cashier served in the Illinois Infantry Regiment during the Civil War and was buried with full military honors in 1915. However, Cashier was biologically a woman and had been born Jennie Hodgers. Researchers at the National Archives have found evidence that at least 250 women dressed as men in order to serve in the military since 1860.

The American military has managed to weather social change over the years with little evidence of a decrease in its primary mission of protecting the country. In 1948, President Truman ordered the full integration of African Americans into the armed services. In the same year, Congress passed a law making women a permanent part of the military. During the Clinton Administration, the Department of Defense adopted the closeted policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” regarding a person’s sexual orientation. That policy was rescinded in 2011 to one of allowing gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members to openly serve in the military.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis seems in no hurry to implement the President’s policy. In late August, Mattis announced that serving transgendered military personnel will continue to serve, pending the results of a study whose intent will be “to provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president’s direction.”

The ACLU has filed several lawsuits on behalf of transgendered soldiers, and the issue appears likely to become bogged down in the legal system. At the same time, support is growing in Congress for legislation that would stop the Defense Department from implementing the President’s directive. Those efforts received a major boost when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) as co-sponsors of a bill to protect transgender military members.

History is not on the side of banning transgender people from the military. Americans may be slow to accept change, but once new ground is broken, the public needs a good reason to reverse course. There are very few downsides and many benefits in allowing patriotic transgendered Americans to serve the military needs of our country.

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