Donald Trump just announced that the military’s going to fire all of its trans service members because it’s too expensive to pay for their health care. In essence, “thanks for your service, but we’d rather fire you than provide medical care.”
Can he do that? Is he right that trans soldiers are too expensive to allow in the military? And is there anything anyone can do about this?
Let’s break it down.
First: yeah, he can do that, at least for now. When Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was overturned, it didn’t completely go away. Trans soldiers could still be thrown out, so as a result, they had to keep their gender identity secret.
Obviously, it’s not great for soldiers to have to keep secrets from their own military in order to serve. So the Obama administration set up a timeline to overturn the ban, taking a year to roll out policies for nondiscrimination, and recruiting, and health care, and so on. In the mean time, the administration told trans soldiers, don’t worry, it’s safe to serve openly, you won’t lose your jobs.
Well, so much for that. Trump just threw out all that planning and told the military to get rid of the all trans people currently serving ― as many as 15,000 people, according to the Williams Institute. Because nothing helps military readiness than suddenly firing thousands of qualified people.
Now there’s a chance that purging trans people from the military would actually be unconstitutional. But that’s something a court would have to decide. And wouldn’t you know it, Trump’s been giving intensely homophobic judges lifetime appointments. So you might not want to count on the courts for, you know, justice.
But what about Trump’s justification? “Tremendous medical costs,” he said, and “disruption” — really?
Let’s talk about the medical costs first.
That’s made up. According to the best estimate, transition-related medical services would cost the US military at most $8.4 million, or about .017 percent of the entire military budget. For comparison, the military currently spends ten times that on boner pills.
Of course, nobody’s saying that all men with problem-boners should be banned from the military, although that certainly would bring costs down. There are health care costs associated with all people. Everyone is going to need health care at some point. A work force that never needs medical care doesn’t exist.
And what about the claim that it would be “disruptive”? Well, no, trans soldiers have been serving openly for the past year with no problems. They’ve been serving openly in 20 other countries for years. Gender-queer soldiers have been serving in the US all the way back to the Civil War.
It’s not some mystery what happens when trans soldiers can serve, because it’s already happened, and it’s fine.
They made the same claim when it was time to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: it would harm the military, break down morale, hurt their ability to fight. It was a lie then, it’s a lie now.
We also know what happens when trans soldiers are kicked out. Generally, they get what’s called a Section 8: a permanent note on their official record that says they are mentally unfit to serve. They also lose all access to veteran’s benefits, including housing assistance.
These are people who’ve devoted their careers to the military, put their lives at risk to protect Americans. And the deal is that in return for their sacrifice, America pledges to take care of them. Except not anymore, apparently.
So if it’s not actually expensive and it’s not actually disruptive, why impose this hardship on trans soldiers? Well, it’s not really about the military. It’s about making queer people unwelcome in public. It’s sending a message: We don’t want your kind here. And they’re targeting the most vulnerable groups first.
We’ve seen this again and again and again: if they’re not saying trans people are unfit to serve, they’re making up stories about how they’re too dangerous to allow into bathrooms. A decade before that, they claimed that marriage equality would mean the death of the family. Before that, they said that HIV was punishment for homosexuality. They said that gay teachers would indoctrinate children, so that queer people couldn’t have jobs. They said that gay bars were a threat to public decency, so that queer people couldn’t meet. They said homosexuality was a disease, and locked queers up in prison hospitals.
They’re doing this to divide people into decent Americans and the scary “others.” To dehumanize queer people. To make people afraid and then exploit their fear.
So now what can be done? Well, ultimately, the lawmakers responsible need to lose their jobs. But that doesn’t happen on election day. The work to make that happen starts right now.
The most immediate thing you can do is stay informed, so start by following the National Center for Trans Equality on Twitter. That’s @transequality. They’re on the front lines and they’ll have the best information about what’s going on and what you can do.
The next priority is to get other people informed. This is a time when making noise matters. Start making noise by just being a good friend. Even if you’re not trans, don’t wait to speak out. Voice your outrage. Let people know you’re standing alongside trans people.
Then: boost the voices of trans and nonbinary people. Listen for first-hand accounts from the people who are personally affected by this policy. Whether it’s on social media, in the news, in real life ― if a trans person is openly sharing their story, help them spread it. Retweet it, share it, talk about them ― use your voice to direct everyone you can to those first-hand stories.
Something we’ve learned time and time again in the LGBT movement is that facts don’t move people nearly as much as personal stories about the people who are affected. When you get to know someone it’s a lot harder to think of them as the enemy. It’s harder to paint them as a threatening other once you know… they’re just people.
This is why advances in civil rights sometimes seem to happen so fast: you get a large group of people telling persuasive stories to build intense public support.
Building public support is crucial now, in the short term, so that the bigoted politicians can be voted out of office in the long term. That happens in the leadup to an election, with letters to editors, attending rallies, donating to candidates, and reminding your friends to vote.
We’re already seeing increasing attacks on the queer community. There’s already been a been a wide-scale assault on LGBT rights ever since Trump took office.
Just to name a few highlights: they overturned protection for trans students in schools. They revoked job protections for queer federal contractors. Trump just appointed federal judges who’ve used anti-gay slurs in speeches and said they they’re in favor of anti-gay harassment in schools. On the same day that Trump announced he would purge trans soldiers from the army, the Department of Justice filed a brief arguing that civil rights laws don’t apply to LGBT citizens.
And let’s not forget the Affordable Care Act, which has been literally lifesaving for queer people. LGBT folks are more likely to be uninsured, face certain health problems, and be denied care due to discrimination. The ACA drastically increased the number of queer people who can get and pay for health care. And of course the Republicans are trying to undo that.
Look, I know, all these attacks are a lot to deal with, and it can feel overwhelming to see all the different ways that progress is being pulled backwards. But remember, you’re not powerless here. In the immediate term, you can make sure you’re following experts like the National Center for Trans Equality. In the short term, you can be vocal and build public pressure. And that gets you to the long term goal of getting rid of the politicians who are trying to erase queer people from public life.
Because remember, these attacks aren’t really about the military, or about bathrooms, or about schools. They’re about using fear, dividing people, convincing Americans that queers are a scary threat that needs to be stopped.
Now it’s time to give those politicians something to be afraid of: Losing their jobs.
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