On the 69th anniversary of President Harry S. Truman’s executive order that desegregated the military, President Donald Trump reinstated a ban disqualifying transgender people from serving in the armed forces.
In a move no one, including members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, anticipated, Trump tweeted, “After consultation with my generals and military experts” — none of whom he named — “the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.” The armed forces, he wrote, “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
The president did not specify when this order would go into effect, or whether transgender men and women currently serving would be discharged. According to a June 2016 RAND Corporation study, there are between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender people in the military out of 1.3 million active-duty service members.
As usual, Trump is playing fast and loose with the facts. Studies conducted before the Pentagon lifted the ban on transgender service members last year found no evidence that they undermine combat readiness or unit cohesion. Furthermore, a RAND study estimated that costs associated with medical care for gender transition would only increase military health care expenditures by $2.4 million to $8.4 million each year, an increase of between 0.04 and 0.13 percent.
Even if treatment costs were truly unaffordable, though, Trump’s ban goes far beyond the calls by some conservatives to disallow coverage for gender transition. His policy prohibits transgender people from the military entirely. And it apparently ends the military careers of those serving currently, an outcome decried by both Democrats and Republicans.
“There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity,” Senator John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
In all branches of the military, transgender people have served this nation with distinction, and often did so while forced to conceal their true selves. When the ban was lifted last June, then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said, “Our mission is to defend this country, and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualifications to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission.”
That should be the sole focus in maintaining a strong military. Yet this commander in chief seems more concerned with creating another distraction to avert public attention from the Russia investigation, his destructive health care bill, and his stillborn agenda. As his approval ratings plummet, the reversal on transgender service members looks like nothing more than an ugly appeal to shore up his base, and chip away another piece of President Obama’s legacy.
What Trump has proposed threatens not only the rights of transgender people — and, in the case of already serving service members, their livelihoods — but the well-being of a country that deserves a military best equipped for the unknown challenges ahead. To demean those who seek to honor this nation by serving in its armed forces is more than spiteful and cruel. It’s un-American.