Opinion

Renée Graham

Transgender individuals can join the military openly

FILE - In a Wednesday, July 26, 2017 file photo, demonstrators gather in Times Square, in New York to protest after President Donald Trump declared a ban on transgender troops serving anywhere in the U.S. military. The Justice Department has put its proposed ban on transgender military recruits on hold, meaning their enlistment can start Monday, Jan. 1, 2017. But the future for transgender people in the armed forces remains murky. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press
Demonstrators gather in Times Square in July to protest President Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the US military.

Transgender men and women can now openly enlist in the military. Happy New Year, President Trump.

Of course, this is the exact opposite of what Trump and his homophobic henchmen, Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, wanted. Last summer, Trump tweeted that transgender people should be banned from serving “in any capacity” in the military. Their presence, he said, would cause “disruption” within the ranks and that “tremendous medical costs” would be too great.

The president, as usual, had nothing to back up these statements. This was Trump doing what Trump does — dismantling an Obama-era policy, hyping his base by discriminating against a group they irrationally despise, and lying.

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Last week, after getting its proposed ban slapped down several times in federal court, the DOJ dropped its appeal, clearing the way for transgender individuals to join the military openly.

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In a statement, Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said, “As mandated by court order, the Department of Defense is prepared to begin accessing transgender applicants for military service Jan. 1. All applicants must meet all accession standards.”

Among other things, those standards include certification from a licensed medical provider that an enlistee “has completed all medical treatment associated with the applicant’s gender transition, the applicant has been stable in the preferred gender for 18 months, and if presently receiving cross-sex hormone therapy post-gender transition, the individual has been stable on such hormones for 18 months.”

A 2016 study by the Rand Corp. estimated that 1,320 to 6,630 people out of 1.3 million active service members identify as transgender.

When Ash Carter, secretary of defense during the Obama administration, announced in 2016 that transgender people would be allowed to serve openly, he said, “We can’t allow barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications to prevent us from recruiting and retaining those who can best accomplish the mission.”

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Trump, who never saw a civil rights barrier he wouldn’t try to fortify, has a different mission, though few outside of his administration support his discriminatory ban. Last year, more than 50 retired generals and admirals signed a letter stating such a ban would cause “significant disruptions, deprive the military of mission-critical talent, and compromise the integrity of transgender troops who would be forced to live a lie.”

Having finagled five military deferments during the Vietnam era, Trump understands neither integrity nor the call to service. I learned about that undeniable call from a childhood friend who, shortly after college, joined the Army Reserves.

She was a lesbian, and I struggled to understand why she would sign up for an institution likely to kick her out if her sexual orientation was discovered. This was before President Clinton’s flawed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, at a time when those suspected of being gay or lesbian were routinely discharged, leaving careers in tatters.

Yet for my friend, her lifelong desire to serve her country outweighed any personal risk. Hiding who she was — and she did so for 20 years — was worth it to don a uniform in defense
of a nation she had loved since moving from Jamaica to New York as a child. Becoming a service member was as much a part of her as her sexual
identity.

That’s how I imagine it is for the transgender community. Gender identity is not incompatible with military service; being forced to live a lie is. It’s likely the DOJ will again push the courts to allow its ban, including purging currently serving transgender members. Their opponents will be ready. In the meantime, transgender individuals no longer have to fight for their right to join the military. They can now do openly what they’ve always done — serve their nation with honor, integrity, and pride.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.