A new directive shows the promise of ‘LGBTs for Trump’ to be a one way street

BY ELLIE LONGMAN-ROOD

In October 2016, Donald Trump appeared at another campaign rally, this time in an attempt to gain the votes of a minority we would not automatically associate with him; the LGBT community. At this rally, Trump’s face held a dazed smile aimed at adoring fans, and he held a rainbow flag, inscribed with the message ‘LGBTs for Trump’. Less than a year later it has become clear that this was not a two way street. While Trump may have given the message that the LGBT community were supposedly ‘for Trump’, Trump, now president, is clearly not in support of their equal rights.  President Trump has directed the military not to move forward with an Obama-era plan that would have allowed transgender individuals to be selected to serve in the armed forces. Not only does this directive affect those wishing to join the forces, but restricts the Department of Defence from providing medical treatment related to gender reassignment to current transgender individuals serving. Essentially, it provides a very different atmosphere for the transgender community from this time last year. Instead of the government encouraging acceptance for these individuals, it is spreading an unwelcome message.

 

It is important to ask what this means for the transgender community. While there may be no official data of the number of serving transgender individuals in the US armed forces, recent estimates have been between 10,000 and 15,000. Not to mention the countless more in the general public wishing to serve, that now cannot. Practical applications aside, such as being denied medical assistance, this is a huge symbolic blow. It puts the rights of another minority in the box of being a “burden”. More simply put, as GLAD official ( GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders ), Jennifer Levi responded in a statement, “This policy is a shameful slap in the face to people who put their lives on the line everyday to defend our country…”

 

All the while, the White House claims this has not been brought about for purposes of discrimination. Instead, matching with Trump’s business history and rhetoric, it has been claimed to have been done on a cost basis. Supporters of the policy have argued how transgender people have a higher risk of heart disease and mental health issues, higher suicide rates and not to mention the possible complications of surgery.  Essentially, arguing that the military budget just cannot support transgender people. It is important to acknowledge that many of these medical claims are, indeed, hard to deny. There may well be cases where a willing transgender individual is simply medically unfit to serve in the armed forces. Furthermore, it is important that, in an attempt to shun discriminatory behaviour, that we don’t accept these unfit individuals simply to fulfil a quota. Yet, can President Trump legitimately ban transgenders in the military due to costs when transgender people account for 0.0014% of the military budget? A budget that has spent 10 times more on erectile dysfunction than on transgender medical care. Interestingly enough, this statistic seems to not be as prominent in the US media.

 

Yet, and perhaps this is where the real issue lies, some claims go further. Other supporters of President Trump’s ban say that transgender individuals disturb the order and morale of the US armed forces’ system. That the forces should not be used as a social experiment as it tries to defend its boarders and people in today’s difficult world. While we cannot base all opinion on what we see on television, this brings a scene from Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The West Wing’ to the forefront of my mind. The scene involves a senior White House staffer discussing the issue of gays being banned from the military with aides from the Pentagon. At the point where it seemed no progress was being made the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who was also African American, walked in and briefly joined the discussion. After a few remarks the Chairman directly addressed one of the aides:

 

“And what do you think Son?”

“Sir, we are not prejudiced toward homosexuals” replied the aide.

“You just don’t want to see them serve in the military?” rebutted the Chairman

“Yes Sir”

“Because they pose a threat to unit discipline and cohesion?”

“Yes Sir”

The Chairman smiled “That’s what I think too. The military wasn’t designed as an instrument of social change. Problem is, they said that about me… Blacks shouldn’t serve.

lt disrupts the unit. Know what? lt did. The unit got over it and changed. l’m an admiral and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Beat that with a stick.” And with that the Chairman left the room and the aides stunned.

 

Granted, this is a slightly hyperbolic analogy. However, if you replace the word ‘homosexuals’ with ‘transgenders’ does the principle not remain the same? If someone is willing to wear the uniform and defend their country, should the public admonish them for doing so due to their personal lifestyle? More importantly, should the government, sat safely behind their pristine desks, legislate policy instructing them to do otherwise?

 

I can’t help but wonder that if we take this debate down to basics, does it seem familiar? It is said that history repeats itself, perhaps this is all too true for the United States. Whether it’s Native Americans or African Americans, Women or Homosexuals, every minority in America has walked the same path to equal rights at some point in the country’s past. Now it is the turn of the Transgender community. Even the case the ACLU is now taking against President Trump on behalf of six plaintiffs, is seeming eerily familiar. While we cannot deny there are grey areas and complications around the treatment transgender individuals would need in the forces, an out and out ban is surely unconstitutional. Needless to say, there are still many factors to consider, from the medical costs to supporting other members of the military alongside transgenders. Yet, this new directive from Trump just doesn’t seem viable. More importantly, it begs the question, when President Trump claimed he wanted to “make America great again”, what truly does he mean by “great”?

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