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Serving With Integrity and Dedication: Defending Transgender Military Service

August 3, 2017

Last Wednesday, my heart sank as I read a series of three tweets from President Trump stating his intention to stop transgender people from serving in the military. To do so would be to roll back much of the work done by transgender advocates to make the military inclusive to transgender people. The day after Trump’s tweets, military leadership including chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, declared that they are not currently changing any military policies regarding transgender people based on a tweet. New polling data released August 2 by Politico/Morning Consult shows bipartisan support for open transgender military service, with 68% of registered voters in favor.

9 current and retired trans military service members. Credit: Brynn Tannehill

Current and retired trans military service members. Credit: Brynn Tannehill

However, the threat of a transgender ban remains. If Trump issues a direction to the Secretary of Defense to implement new guidelines, we could see a change in policy. Regardless, Trump’s tweets were a baseless attack on the integrity and dedication of transgender service members.

These attacks hit close to home as someone who considered military service—but did not sign up because I am transgender. I would have felt honored to follow the footsteps of so many of my family members who were and are proud military service members. However, I never thought it would be possible to do so before Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and the heads of all the branches of the service to made sure transgender people were accepted and protected in the military. I was excited and proud of the opportunities that gave to the trans community; especially because almost 1 out of 5 of all transgender Americans serve or have served in the military, per the 2015 US Trans Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Trump’s tweets about the “the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender [people] in the military would entail” directly contradicted extensive research already conducted on these very issues. A recent Defense Department study concluded that transgender service members do not harm unit cohesion, and allowing them to fulfill their duty would have no effect on military readiness or military budgets. How could Trump callously disregard the facts? How could he ruin the lives and financial well-being of so many hard working, patriotic, Americans that put their lives on the line to serve and protect our people?

July 26, the day of Trump’s tweets, was also a significant day in history for the military—the anniversary of President Truman’s 1948 executive order racially integrating the military. As a Black man, I cannot help but draw parallels between the discriminatory policies towards people of color in the military and the discrimination transgender service members are facing now.

I feel angry and insulted that Trump is working to disrupt and destroy the lives of so many of my trans brothers and sisters currently serving openly, and in the closet, as well as the lives of their families. The optimism I previously felt after the victory for trans people before was ripped away by Trump. I’m worried for the estimated 15,000 transgender adults who are on active duty or are serving in National Guard or Reserves according to a recent Williams Institute study.

I’m concerned for their safety, for their careers, and for their families. I fear for their spirits in the wake of this slap in the face to their service and sacrifice on behalf of our country.

With his tweets, Trump showed the world that to him a persons’ qualifications, dedication, and determination do not matter. With this action Trump showed he doesn’t truly want to strengthen the military or work across lines of division. I hope that the military keeps holding strong in their support of all the military service members.

by Camden Hargrove, organizer, National LGBTQ Task Force


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