In the span of three tweets the president declared this morning that as many as 15,000 active-duty and reservist members of the U.S. military are categorically unfit to serve. Despite tweeting that he did so “[a]fter consultation with my Generals and military experts” it appears that he did just the opposite, failing to consult with any of the veterans and experts who literally studied this issue for years, and, it appears, without actually consulting the Pentagon. President Trump’s supposed reasoning for issuing the Twitter fiat was, as so many of his “justifications” are, easily disproved by readily available data, or even a simple Google search.
While this morning’s news is devastating—and puts those transgender troops currently serving directly in harm’s way—it’s also profoundly Trumpian, in a way that we should have, by now, come to expect. Let’s take a look at the facts.
The order is based on lies
Trump’s tweets claim that providing medically necessary health care to transgender troops is excessively burdensome. That’s simply not true, and the implication that every trans service member wants to or would pursue gender-affirming surgery (because that’s clearly the “icky” bogeyman Republicans have seized on for the wedge issue du jour) belies a fundamental misunderstanding of who trans people are and what their health care needs look like.
If the point is to cut a “tremendous cost” from the military’s health care expenditures perhaps we should start with those suffering from erectile dysfunction:
— Joy WE VOTED!! WEAR A MASK!! Reid 😷) (@JoyAnnReid) July 26, 2017
(For the record, I believe all members of the military deserve full, unfettered access to whatever kind of health care they and their doctor determine they need.)
And, of course, there are several other places where some fat could be trimmed from the budget, as Twitter helpfully explained:
The brave #transgender soldiers who protect America cost $2.4M – $8.4m a year, says DoD/RAND. Security for Trumps costs $120M a year.
— Anne Frank Center (@AnneFrankCenter) July 26, 2017
Trump’s actions might not even be lawful
Because we, as Americans, have never had a commander-in-chief who issues what amount to executive orders in 140-character bursts on social media, it’s unclear to what extent this particular edict carries the weight of law. However, because the President serves as the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, his Twitter proclamations do have ramifications—like the Pentagon promising it will issue revised regulations on trans service “in the near future.”
Military rules and regulations allow trans people to serve their country. Even the commander-in-chief cannot change those via Twitter.
— ACLU National (@ACLU) July 26, 2017
Tweets are not self-executing: trans people cannot simply be thrown out of the military because of this tweet.
— ACLU National (@ACLU) July 26, 2017
The president has clearly never spoken with those who will be impacted by his actions…
After years of in-depth investigation and meticulous study about what, if any, impact open trans service would have on the military’s all-important “readiness and cohesion,” former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced in June 2016 that transgender Americans were now eligible to serve in the armed forces. In the wake of that landmark announcement (and for some time before the policy became official), transgender soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines began coming out to their commands, and, in some instances, talking about their identity in the media. Those individuals, some of whom are retired, are still readily available for comment. In fact, at least two with whom I’ve worked in the past invited our draft-dodging president to sit down with them and talk about what it actually looks like to be a trans person serving in the military.
Kristin Beck, a retired Navy SEAL who ultimately served on the elite SEAL Team 6, challenged the president to tell her, a Purple Heart recipient who spent two decades in the Navy, that she is unfit to serve because she happens to be transgender.
“Let’s meet face to face and you tell me I’m not worthy,” Beck told Business Insider on Wednesday. “Transgender doesn’t matter. Do your service.”
Logan Ireland, an Air Force Staff Sergeant currently stationed in Colorado, offered a similar invitation. Ireland is a transgender man who recently returned from an overseas deployment, and who previously made history as the first uniformed, active-duty transgender service member to meet a sitting U.S. president, when he and his wife, Army veteran Laila Ireland (neé Villanueva), were invited to the White House in 2015. The Irelands were also active in discussions about discontinuing the ban with former Secretary of Defense Carter, and are the subjects of an Emmy-nominated op-doc published by The New York Times called “Transgender, At War and In Love.”
"For my President to deny an able bodied, fully qualified person the inherent right to raise their right hand and serve…
…or leaders of the service branches to which he just issued orders…
It appears that the White House and the Pentagon are playing a game of “hot potato” with reporters seeking further explanation and comment on the sudden about-face in policy.
White House directing questions on transgender service ban to DoD, which earlier directed questions to the White House.
— Sam Stein (@samstein) July 26, 2017
Meanwhile, the U.S. Naval Institute offered a subtle snub, posting its presiding policies on trans sailors, which continues to state that those who meet the military’s physical fitness requirements are welcome to serve, regardless of gender identity:
— U.S. Naval Institute (@NavalInstitute) July 26, 2017
As with most of Trump’s regressive policy suggestions on “culture war” issues, Mike Pence and his allies have been pushing for this
Foreign Policy reports that the Vice President has been “working quietly” to roll back the Department of Defense’s landmark policy allowing transgender troops to serve openly. How “quiet” that work has actually been is open for debate as there was a sizable outcry on social media when House Republicans, led by Missouri Rep. Vicki Hartzler, attempted to add an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would ban all surgical care for transgender service members. The amendment, which could be read to prohibit all clinical care for trans troops aside from talk therapy, failed by a narrow margin last week. Nevertheless, it appears that the cynical, anti-LGBT forces that continue to stroll through the White House daily had the ultimate say on the issue.
The policy directly contradicts campaign promises from the President
Remember when then-candidate Trump promised that he was a “real friend” to LGBT people, and that he would be the most LGBT-friendly Republican president ever? He even cheesed for the camera while waving an (upside-down) rainbow flag with “LGBTs for TRUMP” scrawled on it at a campaign rally in Colorado. And then there was that time he invited trans Olympian and reality star Caitlyn Jenner to use the women’s restroom in Trump Tower, which she did without incident. But apparently the president’s trans-friendly policies only go so far as his gold-plated bathroom stalls. Combined with the Trump administration’s callous directive to rescind Obama-era protections for trans students, its deletion of proposed questions about LGBT identity in the upcoming Census, and the heavy deference to anti-LGBT “religious freedom” claims, it should be clear to anyone paying even a modicum of attention that the Trump administration is hell-bent on erasing LGBT Americans from public life.
It should also go without saying that abruptly calling for the dismissal of thousands of active-duty service members, without warning, reason, or consultation with commanding officers, does nothing to strengthen the military. Candidate Trump talked about growing the Army’s ranks, promised to “rebuild” the Marine Corps, and pledged new fighter jets and naval ships to the Air Force and Navy, respectively. Categorically kicking out highly trained troops—some of whom, no doubt, were slated to be operating those ships and jets—makes all of those goals harder to achieve, and quite literally endangers the people currently serving in austere environments.
It’s also a dangerous distraction
While Trump’s military-policy-by-Tweet is earning rare bipartisan critique, it does serve the purpose of distracting attention from the equally callous so-called healthcare debacle, as the Transgender Law Center’s executive director Kris Hiyashi explained:
“While it’s far from clear that Trump can even set policy by tweet, we know that he uses his tweets to distract from very real, disastrous policy moving forward in Congress, like the attack on our health care. Combined with his assaults on immigrants, people of color, Muslims, and so many other members of the transgender community, Trump’s actions today are just one more sign that he will do everything in his power to harm us.”
In the interest of full disclosure (something the President might want to study up on, himself), I have spent the past five years reporting on the state of open trans service in the U.S. Armed Forces. At The Advocate, I was the lead reporter covering the slow march toward open service, and in the course of that reportage, I met numerous transgender troops, veterans, and policy experts who, without exception, served honorably and with distinction, even as the government they served tried to pretend they didn’t exist.