On Wednesday morning, President Trump announced via Twitter that transgender individuals are now banned from serving in the U.S. Military.
The president concluded his statement by saying, “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.”
I don’t believe Trump’s decision has anything to do with budget concerns or military readiness. This is pure politics. It’s also really stupid.
Trump’s decision to ban transgender military members is most likely the result of a debate that’s come up during discussions about a spending package set to be considered next week in the House. Several congressmen, including Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R- Mo., are opposed to a current law that allows the Defense Department to pay for gender reassignment surgery and treatment for transgender active-duty personnel. “This policy hurts our military’s readiness and will take over a billion dollars from the Department of Defense’s budget,” Politico reports Rep. Hartzler said in a recent statement.
A billion dollars? Recent studies suggest a much, much lower cost.
Last year a RAND Corp study of the Pentagon estimated that there are between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender troops among an active-duty force of 1.3 million. The study estimated that somewhere between 30 and 140 of those active-duty troops might want hormone treatment, and potentially 25 to 130 might seek gender reassignment surgery.
The cost? Somewhere between $2.4 million and $8 million annually. Another expert on the subject, Aaron Belkin, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University estimated in 2015 that the cost is about $5.6 million annually.
I’m not a mathematician, but that’s nowhere near the billion dollar mark claimed by Rep. Hartzler. Even more confusing in Hartzler’s argument about fiscal prudence in the military is her support of the F-35 jet — a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars to the tune of $1.4 trillion which is more than Australia’s entire budget.
Let’s not insult anyone’s intelligence by pretending that Trump’s decision regarding transgender troops has anything to do with fiscal conservatism.
And military readiness?
“In terms of readiness, RAND estimates that 10 to 130 active component members each year could have reduced deployability as a result of gender transition-related treatments,” the study notes. “This amount is negligible relative to the 102,500 non-deployable soldiers in the Army alone in 2015, 50,000 of them in the active component.”
RAND Corp also examined four countries that allow transgender service members to serve openly: Australia, Canada, Israel and the United Kingdom.
The study analyzed specific cases involving the impact of transgender soldiers on military readiness and concluded, “In no case did the RAND team find evidence of an effect on operational effectiveness, operational readiness or cohesion.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis is currently reviewing the lack of readiness claims prompted by this debate about transgender service members, and probably should have been included in any conversation about a ban. Yet the Pentagon was apparently not aware of the president’s decision.
According to military experts — and, now, the president — the presence of transgender soldiers hurts the military, which is exactly what some “experts” used to say about gay service members, a group much larger in number. Those claims turned out to be false.
I agree with the conservative argument that the U.S. military should not be an incubator for social causes. But the military should still reflect the United States, and unless a person has a physical or mental condition that undermines his or her ability to serve effectively, that person should not be denied the right to serve the country based on lingering prejudices.
And make no mistake, prejudice is at the heart of this.
Transgender rights are arguably the most difficult for many Americans to understand. But just because a subject is difficult for people to grasp doesn’t make it any less real.
A UCLA study in May found that “transgender adults were 14 times more likely to think about suicide and 22 times more likely to attempt suicide than rates in the general population.” Transgender Americans are not suicidal at record rates simply to push a political agenda. So let’s call this what it is: an opportunity for politicians to capitalize on anti-transgender prejudices at the expense of one of the least understood communities in our society.
Transgender men and women have served their country honorably and should be able to continue to do so. That an alleged $1 billion price tag for gender reassignment surgery and what appear to be unfounded claims about “readiness” are the obstacles to paying those service members the respect they deserve is something every American should be ashamed of.
And that includes President Trump, who once promised LGBT Americans that he is a friend to their community.