We won. The ban is gone. Let's not do this again.
The ban was senseless from the start. Just like all others before it.
As of today, Trump’s heinous ban on trans people serving openly in the military is no more.
We all knew this day was coming because President Joe Biden had pledged and reiterated countless times to do so during the campaign, but now that it’s finally here, there has emerged a renewed sense of hope, not just for trans service members and their families or the even the trans community generally but all LGBTQ people who have seen our rights attacked by the previous administration on a near-daily basis for four years.
Why? Because military service has always been a bellwether for equality. The Trump White House knew that if they could get away with this, all other anti-LGBTQ actions and policies, particularly anti-trans discrimination, would be on the table.
What does Biden’s executive order do?
Simply put: it allows transgender people to enlist, serve openly, and otherwise continue their service in their authentic gender identity and expression, knowing they will be protected against discrimination.
Hours after President Biden signed the executive order, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III released a statement offering his full support and confidence in transgender service members and made it clear he would ensure transgender people are able to enlist and serve consistent with the President’s order.
How did we get here?
In July of 2017, Donald Trump tweeted that he intended to ban transgender people from serving openly in the military. This announcement notably caught the Pentagon off guard, who were forced to scramble and determine the legality of Trump’s intent, and reportedly, then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who was traveling abroad and opposed talk of a ban, had not been informed by Trump before the tweet went out.
Up until that moment, transgender people had been serving openly in the U.S. military consistent with official policy for 17 months. This followed years of discussion and collaboration between military officials, LGBTQ activists, medical experts, budget analysts, and other interested parties.
A report released by the Rand Institute in 2016 declared that allowing transgender people to serve would, at most, have minimal effects on military readiness and unit cohesion and recommended the Department of Defense proceed with an inclusive policy carried out with thoughtful implementation.
Much of the behind-the-scenes in lobbying for the inclusive policy change can be found in the remarkable documentary TransMilitary, which profiled several openly-transgender service members and their families as they grappled with serving their country while negotiating their humanity with officials. One of the soldiers profiled is my dear friend U.S. Army Captain El Cook, West Point Class of 2013.
So much care and thought had gone into making the military open to all that when Trump tweeted out his bigoted policy, it felt like more than a mere slap in the face. It was watching in horror as one cowardly man was unable to undo years of hard work and advocacy for no better reason than cynically appealing to his political base.
Because the military falls under the authority of the Commander-in-Chief and it was not Congress who had passed legislation affirming the open service of transgender individuals, Trump was able to convince the Supreme Court to allow the ban to go into place in April of 2019 while the cases challenging its merits were working their way through lower courts.
To be clear: the Supreme Court never ruled on whether it was illegal to ban transgender people from serving openly. Their ruling was to lift injunctions that kept the ban from being implemented under executive authority while those cases were considered.
Given that the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of banning discrimination against transgender people in employment this past June, it’s highly unlikely the cases seeking to overturn Trump’s ban on trans people in the military would have been successful.
Was there ever any merit to arguments for the ban?
No, there was not a shred of credible evidence to support the ban.
Medical authorities—including the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and several past surgeons general of the military—released statements concluding that there are no medically-disqualifying reasons why transgender people cannot serve openly.
Budget analysts at the RAND Institute found that the financial cost of permitting open service of trans people would be negligible, less than a tenth of a percent of the military’s overall Active Duty health expenditures. Data released from the Department of Defense in early 2019, just two months before the ban went into place, found that open service of trans people had cost just $8 million total out of its $50 billion health care budget since 2016. (Note: that’s not $8 million annually over those three years but total over those three years.)
Fear that it would affect military readiness and unit cohesion—that ol’ chestnut that had been used to bar men of color, women, and gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from the military over the course of our nation’s history—found absolutely no quarter from military officials. When Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY-D) asked all four service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force if there had been any problems presented by the open service of trans people in the military, each answered there had been none at all and the policy seemed to work.
In late 2017, a group of 56 retired generals, admirals, and other senior officers released an open letter slamming the ban on trans service members and called on the Trump administration to rescind it.
What about the rank-and-file troops? A poll from Military Times last year found that 66 percent of Active Duty service members supported the open service of trans military personnel.
Polling of the American public found similar support, consistently around 70% in support of trans service members, including over 40% of Republican respondents.
The factors against the ban have been so overwhelming and so clear cut for so long that it’s hard not to think we will look back on this as an egregiously embarrassing moment for the supposed characters of Republican lawmakers who stood silently by while Trump—who never served a day in uniform—threw trans service members under the bus just for his own political gain.
The week that the ban went into place in 2019, I gave a commentary on CBS Sunday Morning on what it meant to see trans service members—who had so faithfully and honorably served their country—be attacked in such a vicious manner. I leave you with that:
Hi, I’m Charlotte Clymer, and this is my Substack. It’s completely free to access and read, but if you feel so moved to support my writing, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $7/month or save money with the $70/annual sub. You can also go way above and beyond by becoming a Founding Member at $210.
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