As if yesterday's moderate victory for Trump's horrifying health care plan wasn't enough, the President set America back even further this morning by announcing yet another discriminatory, regressive decision: banning transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military. Our military, Trump wrote in a series of tweets, “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
This decision is not just blatantly discriminatory, but in true Trump fashion, divorced from factual reality. A 2016 RAND corporation study found that there are between 2,500 and 7,000 transgender service members in the active-duty military and an additional 1,500 to 4,000 in the reserves. This notably composes about 20 percent of transgender people, which is double the percentage of the U.S. general population that has served in the military — hardly a rate of service that could logically be called a “disruption.”
Additionally, the “tremendous” medical costs Trump cited actually pale in comparison to the Department of Defense’s overall spending on health care: The estimated cost of transgender-related health services, according to the RAND Corporation study, is an “exceeding small proportion” of overall health care spending in the military. RAND estimated that transgender-related services would cost between $2.4 million and $8.4 million while the DoD’s overall health care expenditures in 2014 weighed in at $29.3 billion.
This regression comes just a year after former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter helped trans service members make great gains in the military: On June 30, 2016, Carter ended the previous ban on trans service members. Ending that policy, which prohibited individuals with “current or history of psychosexual conditions, including but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias” or those with “history of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia including but not limited to change of sex” from serving was, as Carter put it, “the right thing to do.” According to Carter’s new policy, transgender troops would be able to receive medical care and formally change their gender identifications in the Pentagon’s personnel system by October 1, 2016.
Carter’s full policy was supposed to be completely implemented by July 1, 2017, but rumblings of dissent were evident last month when, right before that deadline for full implementation, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis delayed processing transgender recruits for six months. Hope for trans rights seemed high on July 13, however, when the House demolished an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have prevented the military from funding sex reassignment surgeries and hormone therapies, and then when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a version of the National Defense Authorization Act that notably left out amendments on transgender troops the next day.
Of course, some congressmen made their transphobic displeasure known: Steve King and Louie Gohmert notably made inarticulate references to centuries-old military tactics to defend currently banning transgender servicepeople, much to Samantha Bee’s sardonic glee.
It would appear that the timing of Trump’s announcement today — which came in the immediate wake of the Senate’s vote to proceed with a debate about the Republican American Health Care Act (a.k.a. ‘Trumpcare’) — is a classic Trump tactic of distraction. "This isn't about the military," L’lerret Ailith, Communications Director for Black Youth Project 100, told MTV News. "It's an attack on the dignity and humanity of trans people and our right to occupy space and navigate authentically... With the military budget at near $50 billion and trans health care costs at only $9 million, this is clearly a rouse to get folks to attack the legitimacy and necessity of trans health care."
And to be sure, health care is a pertinent issue not just facing the nation, but the trans community in particular. Many activists and allies have spoken out about the discrimination trans individuals when pursuing or receiving health care, as well as the inaccessibility of health care for those same people. For example, 19 percent of transgender people report lacking any form of health insurance, including Medicaid, according to GLAAD, while 50 percent of transgender respondents to one survey noted they had to educate their medical providers about transgender care. And yet trans individuals experience this inaccessibility at the same time that trans individuals disproportionately experience various health problems — especially mental health.
As Ailith concluded, "This is less about choice and more about stripping away at resources and protections." It seems it's high time for Trump as well as Ivanka to revisit their previous pledges to protect LGBT rights — not just to keep their word to protect them but, as Ash Carter recognized, because it's the right thing to do.
To learn more about issues affecting the transgender community and how to be a trans ally, visit Look Different.