On Friday, the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people in the military, which strips them of the rights they gained under the Obama administration, went into effect. The policy will immediately kick out service members who come out as transgender after the ban is implemented and bar openly-transgender people from enlisting. Pentagon officials continue to maintain that this policy is not a ban, stating that trans people are allowed to serve, so long as they do so as their birth sex and do not receive treatment for gender dysphoria. This is absolutely a ban.
Top military leadership have come out against the policy, expressing how it would harm military readiness, rather than improve it. The American Medical Association said there is “no medically valid reason” to ban trans troops, and that the policy itself mischaracterizes transgender people as having a “deficiency.” “The only thing deficient is any medical science behind this decision,” AMA President Dr. Barbara L. McAneny told the AP.
Many, if not most, transgender service members can’t simply hide their gender identity, especially those who are still in the process of transitioning, a process that is medically-prescribed to treat the significant mental health challenges for someone diagnosed with gender dysphoria. According to the AMA, if left untreated, gender identity disorder "can result in clinically significant psychological distress… debilitating depression and, for some people without access to appropriate medical care and treatment, suicidality and death." Service members will have to choose between their careers and their health.
Though service members who transitioned prior to the ban’s implementation on Friday will be grandfathered in, and not discharged, thousands will be severely impacted by this policy; the cultural pressure and professional stigma this ban encourages threatens their careers and prevents them from getting the health care they need.
I served in the US Army from 2005 to 2012, during the tail end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), the policy that only allowed LGB service members to serve if they did not disclose their sexual identity. A service member could still face an investigation and be separated under DADT if a commander had “credible evidence” they were homosexual or bisexual, which could be interpreted widely. Things like mannerisms, expressed interests, style of speaking, and other personal characteristics that had nothing to do with being gay could be weaponized against you. And the suspicion alone, without an investigation, could still do significant damage.
Despite never expressing, alluding to, or otherwise intimating an attraction to persons of the same sex (I was in my male presentation at the time as a closeted trans woman), it wasn’t a year and a half into my service in an all-male infantry unit that I started hearing rumors circulate about me. On more than a few occasions, trusted friends would tell me about a rumor that I was seeing a man off-base. I’ll never know where these claims originated or what inspired them, but they did hurt my career. Despite being promoted ahead of my peers months earlier, over the next year, I was passed over for awards, special skill schools, and leadership opportunities—all things necessary to get promoted. Folks in my unit who had been friendly before grew distant. Eventually I couldn’t tell if I was just overthinking something or if it was evidence of prejudice against me.
Transgender service members can’t simply hide their gender identity.
This story is quite common. A military police officer I met on a humanitarian trip once called to say he just needed to talk to someone as a DADT investigation had been launched against him. The investigation didn’t yield credible evidence, but the damage was done. Once his contract was up, he left the Army, and we lost a great soldier over a senseless policy.
The open discrimination and discrediting that many openly-transgender soldiers have already felt since the announcement of this ban is similar to what I experienced. And much like DADT, maintaining that transgender people can continue to serve so long as they do so only expressing their sex assigned at birth, misses the point.
For over three years, I carried caskets in Arlington National Cemetery. I folded American flags for loved ones. I didn’t know anything about the gender identity or sexuality of those I carried—just that they had died in selfless service, and they wore the flag of this country to the grave.
Those who risk their lives to protect our freedoms deserve to have their basic humanity protected, too. The only binary the military should care about is whether or not a person can get the job done.