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The Pentagon’s Transgender ‘Problem’

protest signs reading 'Trans People Are Not A Distraction' and 'Trans Rights Are Human Rights'
Protest outside the White House, July 26, 2017. Photo by Ted Eytan.

The only problem with Donald Trump’s new policy on transgender men and women in military service is that there is no problem, except the policy itself.

What started as an unwarranted and wrongheaded series of tweets is now approaching the realm of actual policy, The Wall Street Journal reported. A drafted, but not finalized, White House memo gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis six months to implement the ban, which would not only prohibit new transgender enlistees but would put existing service members under scrutiny for their ability to serve. For those who stay, the Pentagon will no longer fund any medical treatment regimens for gender dysphoria. Those who are pushed out, depending on the nature of their discharge, may lose access to a range of other benefits (not to mention their careers).

These guidelines may not be final, but they are certainly closer to real policy than Trump’s original tweets. They are just as unwarranted and wrongheaded.

We are remarkably fortunate to have a military service that is not only the world’s most capable, but also made up entirely of volunteers. All sorts of people put their lives on the line for the rest of us – and that’s not mere rhetoric in today’s world. They do some of the nation’s most important and dangerous work.

We can safely assume that there have always been people in the service whose gender identity differs from the one they were assigned at birth, just as there have always been people who are gay or who have flatfeet – all of which, at one time or another, have been seen as reasons to deny a recruit the opportunity to serve. And of the three, the only one with any realistic impact on military effectiveness is flatfeet. No presidential policy appears to be forthcoming on removing the flatfooted from our armed forces, however.

There is literally no demand for the president’s policy beyond a few congressional conservatives who are looking for another arena to carry on the stupid fight over who gets to use which bathroom – another issue that was never a problem until someone chose to make it one. Polls show overwhelming public support for allowing transgender people to serve in the military, and both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have vocally criticized the administration’s proposed ban.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., urged her fellow legislators to block the proposed ban in blunt but moving terms. Referring to her own service record, Duckworth said, “When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk helicopter after I was shot down, I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white or brown. All that mattered was they didn’t leave me behind.”

Even after the White House finalizes its guidance, the Defense Department will have to decide precisely how to implement it. Depending on how the final rules take shape, the risk of one or more legal challenges ranges from very likely to near certain. But the ban on transgender service members, even if it is later struck down, would represent a needless burden on thousands of American soldiers, sailors and airmen (a unisex service title) who deserve better.

The last thing the nation, the military and certainly the brave volunteers who serve it need right now is to re-fight the stupidity over banning gay service members from serving openly. In Trump’s administration, trans is the new gay – or it will be, if this policy is put in place.

This is not a trans issue, or a gay issue. It’s an issue of national security, as well as the rights of all qualified citizens to serve. The world is much too dangerous a place for our all-volunteer service to turn away capable enlistees and officers over their gender identity. Our service members deserve to know that while they protect us from the threats coming from without, we have their backs on any stupid attacks coming from within.

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