Yesterday, via his favoured mouthpiece of Twitter, President Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender individuals serving in the military – including currently serving personnel. To add insult to injury, Mr. Trump painted himself as a defender of LGBT rights in his presidential campaign. The justification for this appears to be the increased medical costs that medical treatment for such individuals will bring. This is absurd.
There are an estimated 1,320–6,630 transgender service personnel in the US military. Not everyone who is trans seeks to complete gender reassignment surgery, and a RAND study suggests the increase in medical bills to be a paltry 0.04-0.13% increase. The military’s relationship to spending is often reactive. Projects are cancelled at short notice at great expense (such as the ill-fated Nimrod MRA4 in the UK). Comparisons in cost have been drawn to the ill-fated Lockheed Martin F35 project, which is running into trillions of US dollars. Military departments are appalling at spending money efficiently– to suggest this ban is a cost saving measure is a fallacy.
There could be an argument drawn over combat effectiveness. There is, for example, a correlation between bisexual people and an increase in mental health problems – but to support a ban on this basis would be outright discrimination. Outgoing president Barack Obama lifted a ban on transgender personnel serving in July last year, building on the lifting of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy in 2011.
The situation in the UK
It is 50 years this week since the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and seventeen years since the ban on homosexuals serving in the military was lifted. The change in attitudes didn’t happen overnight. At a military dinner in 2005 I inwardly squirmed when a senior officer quipped “it might be okay now but remember it wasn’t in my day, when I joined up”. I am bi and hadn’t come out to comrades, and didn’t expect anyone to be especially understanding.
Since then military has become an exemplary employer. It features in Stonewall’s top employer lists, and uniformed personnel march at Pride. In my experience, it’s such a rare mix of qualities that makes a prime military candidate. I couldn’t have given a hoot if one of my comrades was trans. I met several gay service personnel once I joined the regular service and it was abundantly clear, by 2008 when I commissioned, that such discrimination would not be tolerated.
Transgender rights in the USA
People like Chelsea Manning have flown the flag with transgender personnel (albeit with some notoriety in her case). High profile trans woman Caitlyn Jenner is an outspoken supporter of Trump, and has vowed to take him on over LGBT issues. There is clearly a narrative of acceptance, as different from mere tolerance, towards trans individuals.
There is no serious argument for lawful discrimination towards trans individuals serving in the military, along with many other professions and civic posts. Sadly, as trans people are at risk from greater incidences of violence, workplace discrimination and suicide, this latest policy suggestion places them in harm’s way yet again, reversing decades of progress on LGBT rights.
Bluff and bluster from Trump?
This is at its heart an illustration of Trump’s mastery of Twitter. Tweets do not make policy – they make headlines. As with his “Muslim ban”, pursuit of “fake news” outlets and other critics, and attempt to repeal Obamacare, Trump may not wield any authority on this issue – but he is making his bigoted feelings known, and is clearly concerned only with reversing Obama administration advances. It remains to be seen whether this bombastic tweet will transition into policy. Better a heteronormative draft-dodger than a transgendered serving soldier? I know which I am prouder of.