In the first major civil rights rollback of his administration, President Donald Trump announced early on Wednesday that transgender people will be stripped of their hard-fought right to serve in the nation’s most hallowed institution. In three short tweets, the commander-in-chief officially designated more than a million Americans as second class citizens whose government will no longer “accept or allow” them to “serve in any capacity” in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard.
“Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” Trump tweeted.
There were hints this might be coming. Just days before the military was set to begin accepting transgender recruits last month thanks to the Obama administration’s historic 2016 decision to allow trans people to openly serve, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced a six month delay in implementation while the Pentagon studied the impact on “readiness and lethality.” Mattis, a former Marine general who earned the nickname “Mad Dog” while commanding the atrocity-laden battle for Fallujah in Iraq, explained that all Pentagon policy decisions should be based on whether they will “affect the readiness and lethality of the force.”
There are thousands of transgender troops currently serving in the ranks without fuss, fanfare or financial burden. According to a 2016 RAND Corporation studycommissioned by the Pentagon, allowing trans people to openly serve would have a “minimal impact” on readiness and health care costs. The RAND study estimated there would be but 30 to 140 new hormone treatments per year, and between 25 and 130 gender reassignment surgeries performed at a cost of $2.4 to $8.4 million dollars — less than the cost of one battle tank, or around 0.00001 percent of the Pentagon’s $824 billion budget. As former Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who is transgender, tweeted:
As for “readiness and lethality,” there has never been a readier or more lethal military in all human history than the United States armed forces, and the notion that a few thousand transgender troops could diminish this would be laughable if this weren’t a crisis of civil rights. The US military reigns supreme over the world and rains down daily death and destruction on both enemy forces and innocent men, women and children alike in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. America’s military has killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force on the planet since the nuclear war waged against Japan at the end of World War II, and since taking office Trump has presided over a shocking surge in civilian slaughter as US and allied forces fight to drive Islamic State militants from their last remaining strongholds. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of civilians have died. America’s military has never been more ready or more lethal.
Trump’s transgender ban isn’t about cost, readiness or lethality. It’s about transphobic bigotry, plain and simple. After initially signaling an openness to transgender rights, the president staffed his cabinet with what critics have called a “who’s who of homophobia.” He quickly reversed his inclusive stance on transgender bathroom rights, with his administration rescinding Obama-era rules protecting trans students from discrimination and halting integration of trans troops in the military. Trump even appointed an anti-transgender activist to head one government gender equality office. This was all perpetrated in service of a conservative and largely Christian fundamentalist base that is by far the most transphobic cohort in the nation.
It should be noted that candidate Trump vowed to champion LGBTQ rights. “I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs,” he tweeted last June in an attempt to sell his Muslim ban. While a Trump promise isn’t worth the 140 characters in which it is tweeted, this is about much more than the broken campaign pledges of a compulsive liar. It’s about the rights and dignity of what is arguably the most vulnerable and least accepted segment of our population. By relegating trans men and women to second class citizenship, Trump is sending a unmistakable signal that they are less American, less deserving of the rights the rest of us too often take for granted, not even worthy of sacrificing their lives in the name of freedom they do not fully enjoy.
What message is Trump sending to the bullied, beleaguered trans teen holding a razor blade over her wrist right now? Or to the violent bigot with hate in his heart and murder in his head? What does this shameful rollback of civil and human rights say to a world wary of the arrogantly hypocritical proclamations of a nation that has always professed lofty ideals of liberty and justice for all while denying liberty and justice to so many of its own citizens? And if Trump is so eager to strip trans people of their rights today, who among us will he target tomorrow?
Just as Trump’s Muslim ban has little to nothing to do with protecting Americans — who are more likely to be killed by falling furniture, armed toddlers or right-wing extremists than by Islamists — from terrorism, this latest abomination has nothing to do with cost, readiness or lethality. Like the Muslim ban, this is about hate, pure and simple. Americans must condemn and resist this horrifying development, for the sake of our trans brothers and sisters as well as for the sake of all of our freedom. Again, it may be trans people today, but it could be you tomorrow. This is how fascism starts.