Most Americans are happy with the military allowing transgender personnel to serve their country, according to a new poll.
President Trump made it clear Wednesday he was not one of them, tweeting: “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow… Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
But 58 percent of those surveyed in a Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted over the two days following Trump’s announcement, said they believe that transgender people should be allowed to serve. The polled Democrats, as expected, overwhelmingly supported the right of trans people to serve in the military; Republicans were split, with 32 percent supporting trans participation in the military, 49 percent opposing. Nineteen percent of Republicans reported that they didn’t know.
Either way, Trump can’t just ban trans people from the military with his tweets. The military has since made clear trans people are still allowed to serve, saying it won’t enforce a ban based solely on tweets.
But with his announcement on Wednesday morning, Trump thrust the issue into a national debate. Trans rights have been a hot issue in recent years, but primarily at the state level, in the form of “bathroom bills” that would force trans people to use the restroom corresponding to their biological sex in public buildings. Though similar bills have been introduced in conservative hotbeds like North Carolina and Texas, Republicans at the federal level have largely steered clear of trans rights issues.
Trump himself opposed North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” on the campaign trail, claiming that it lost the state business and wasn’t worth the trouble.
“There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate,” Trump said in April 2016. “There has been so little trouble. And the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic punishment they’re taking.”
But with the ban on transgender military personnel, an anonymous White House staffer suggested to Axios that the Republicans might be forcing thousands of trans military members out of service in order to set a political trap for Democrats.
“This forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin to take complete ownership of this issue,” the staffer said. “How will the blue-collar voters in these states respond when senators up for reelection in 2018 like Debbie Stabenow are forced to make their opposition to this a key plank of their campaigns?”
Even so, big-ticket Democrats like Sens. Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand seem ready to accept Trump’s challenge — even the Democratic senators in the states Trump won in 2016 — Sherrod Brown in Ohio, Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin, Joe Donnelly in Indiana — have come out in opposition to the trans military ban.
The political motivations behind the bill didn’t have to do only with 2018 elections. The House was looking to pass a spending bill full of Trump campaign promises — including funding for a border wall. But it was threatened by Republican defense hawks in the House, who were looking to include a ban on Pentagon-funded gender-reassignment surgeries, which GOP leaders were reluctant to concede. The hawks turned to Trump, who delivered in force.
“This is like someone told the White House to light a candle on the table and the WH set the whole table on fire,” a senior House Republican aide said in an email to Politico.
After all, no one was asking for a full ban on trans personnel in the military — only a ban on funding for trans-specific medical procedures.
Another anonymous Republican spokesperson, in a report in the Washington Post, rejected the idea that the ban was a trap, saying, “This was not a political decision. It was a military-readiness and military resource decision.”