National Opinions

Trump’s gambit on transgender service members falls flat

Mary Sanchez
Mary Sanchez

You have to wonder, would Donald Trump even know if a soldier, sailor or marine saluting him was a transgender person?

Likely not. Displays of fealty are the one surefire way to put our commander-in-chief in his happy place, oblivious to all but the warm glow of his self-assumed awesomeness.

Also, unless you are peering into someone’s medical records, it’s often pretty difficult to determine if someone was labeled one gender at birth and then changed the label later in life. Judgments based on stereotypical views of masculinity and femininity are often faulty.

And yet this week Trump blasted out a series of early morning tweets announcing that transgender people will be banned from military service. This, like so much else this president does, was not well thought out.

It was incredibly dismissive of military leaders who had been diligently crafting guidelines for more than a year to allow transgender troops to serve openly. They are already present in the major service branches and reserves. According to different surveys, they number anywhere from 1,300 to 15,000 of the 1.3 million active service members.

Facing that truth, President Barack Obama ordered that service members could no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military solely for being transgender.

Since that time, military leaders have been working diligently to enact the order. The deadline was July 1 to have all the guidelines in place. But the Pentagon had asked for an extension.

Trump attempted to cast aside it all aside with a series of fired off tweets. Talk about disrespect for our military leaders. Defense Secretary James Mattis was reportedly on vacation.

A handful of Congress members, including Reps. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri and Steve King of Iowa, both Republicans, reportedly had been prodding Trump toward this action. And for several months now conservative talk radio and cable news networks have been harping about transgender service members. And we know that the president routinely takes cues for his outbursts from right-wing media.

Unfortunately for Trump, not all Republicans are buying into this culture war foray.

Commendably, Sen. John McCain remarked, “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train and deploy to leave the military – regardless of their gender identity.”

Said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch: “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone. Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them. I look forward to getting much more information and clarity from our military leaders about the policy the President tweeted….”

What military scholars have found consistently is that being inclusive strengthens military readiness. Ostracizing a group or making them serve hidden does not.

For its part, the Pentagon has said that transgender members of the services will remain and be “treat(ed) with respect” until the White House sends new rules on the matter.

Unconvincingly, Hartzler has cast her concerns as a matter of government paying the costs of gender reassignment surgeries, claiming that it would harm military readiness. But the costs, by some estimates, would be 0.13 percent of the health care for the military, hardly a line item to bust the budget.

Funny, some of the same buzzwords popping up in this debate echo the arguments heard generations ago about keeping black people from serving alongside white soldiers. Unit cohesion would be undermined. President Harry S. Truman and the realities of war put that nonsense to rest. People don’t check skin color in battle. They want loyalty, training, fitness for the mission.

The same sorry arguments were raised about women serving. Breasts in uniform would undermine unit cohesion. And then the same irrational thinking was trotted out yet again for gay and lesbian members of the military.

It’s pretty easy to see what this is about. A minority group is not well understood and therefore easily demeaned.

An opportunity that is offered to everyone else –the chance to serve in the U.S. armed forces – is taken away largely on assumption and conjecture.

Transgender people are struggling right now to be considered equal. They have too few allies.

More people need to speak up on their behalf, learn more about them. For one thing, understand that transgender is not about sexual orientation; it’s gender identity.

As society evolves toward more awareness, there will be fewer and fewer groups to target. Or we can only hope.

Reach Mary Sanchez at msanchez@kcstar.com.

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