Transgender individuals have only been able to serve openly in the armed forces for a year. Prior, transgender service personnel had to mask their identities—as they would be dishonorably discharged solely for being transgender.
Then-Defense Secretary Ashton Carter ended the ban preventing transgender people from serving openly in the U.S. military on June 30, 2016. Once the ban was lifted, transgender individuals could serve openly without fear of retaliation. As of July 26, however, the fates of current and future transgender military personnel were put in danger when President Donald Trump announced a change in military policy through Twitter that directly affects transgender military personnel. Specifically, Trump declared that the US military “will not allow or accept transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.”
Data from 2016 estimated that 7,000 transgender individuals served in the active duty military and 4,000 served in the reserves. Since October 1, 2016, transgender military personnel have been eligible to receive medical care and begin the process of gender transition. In addition to allowing transgender individuals to serve openly and receive medical care, the policy enacted by Carter called for military leadership to implement practices for enlisting individuals who identify as transgender by July 1, 2017.
The day before full implementation was due to be instated, US Defense Secretary James Mattis approved a six-month delay to full implementation of the Obama administration’s transgender policy, giving military leadership until January 1, 2018, to honor the changes. Mattis claimed that the delay was in the military’s best interest in order to avoid jeopardizing military “readiness or lethality.” What Mattis did not say, however, was that the transgender individuals who are currently serving openly had to go.
The premonition that Mattis’ delay would turn into a full revoking of the policy, forcing thousands of military personnel out. Those fears materialized through Trump’s series of tweets, which claimed that allowing transgender individuals to serve entails superfluous governmental spending on their medical care.
By the afternoon, House Democrats and the public, including transgender military veterans, gathered on the House lawn to voice their disdain for Trump’s decision. In her public address, Nancy Pelosi noted that the U.S. military spends five times more on Viagra than it would for transgender military medical services. Claiming cost as the culprit for forcing out and turning away thousands of troops incited anger in Kristin Beck, who is perhaps the most outspoken transgender military veteran to date. Beck, a retired Navy Seal, served for 21 years under her dead name. Beck has shared the pain of denying her gender identity in her memoir and documentary; but Beck’s pain came to a front upon reading Trump’s tweets. She responded by claiming how mistaken he was in his concerns about costs.
The attention to transgender military personnel has caused frustration in the trans activist community. Professor of Law and Trans-activist Dean Spade stated that the attention on transgender military personnel “not only does nothing to support the grassroots work addressing the most urgent issues trans people face, it is actually likely to harm this work.” Spade, who actively critiques legal based reforms and the mainstreaming of trans rights, argues that since trans politics are “aligned with anti-war and anti-military movements worldwide,” trans folks “have nothing to gain for being the new poster children for a U.S. military…”
Trump continues to incite fear in the American people through the compassionless words and deeds he carries out, including his most recent statements regarding the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA. While Trump has both slandered and praised veterans and military personnel, he has also previously advocated for LGBT rights, albeit before he was elected. As Americans have seen, there is no minority group that Trump has not offended; but what makes his offense on transgender military personnel so disruptive is that if his wishes are honored, these individuals will be forced out of the military without an opportunity to defend themselves and devoid of the financial and medical assistance they earned.
Though the Pentagon assured the public that they do not consider policy relayed via Twitter as a direct action, uncertainty weighs heavy on the minds of the thousands of currently serving transgender military personnel who would be dishonorably discharged if the White House delivers a formal written directive to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A dishonorable discharge would bar personnel from receiving medical benefits, like access to VA care and use of the post-9/11 GI Bill for education. According to Alexa Liautaud of Vice, “service members are … facing immediate harm in the form of having to make decisions” about their military careers.
As the nation awaits further action on the military policy for transgender personnel, a lawsuit has been filed against President Trump and his alleged transgender ban. Five current service members who identify as transgender have filed a lawsuit. The suit claims the ban “violates equal protection and due process rights granted under the fifth amendment.”
Truthfully though, transgender individuals are merely the “newest” members of the military to face unjust discrimination, though the military has made changes throughout history to be seen as a competitive, equal opportunity employer. Let us not forget the injustices that military personnel of minority ethnicities continue to face while serving. And we cannot ignore the discrimination military women experience on account of their gender—from being sexually harassed and assaulted, to being chastised for reporting sexual assault, to being denied promotions—hundreds of military women face gender discrimination daily.
Indeed, many of individuals have been dishonorably discharged and stripped of their military benefits for gender-related discriminations. Though transgender individuals are facing an uncertain and potential unjust fate, they’re not the only ones. They’re merely the newest minority group made into political targets.
The Fembot Collective is a collaborative of faculty, graduate students and librarians promoting research on gender, new media and technology. The Fembot community spans North America and Asia and encourages interdisciplinary and international participation.