July 26, 1948, was a very different day.
On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 9981, allowing integration of African-Americans serving in the military. On July 26, this year, President Donald Trump issued a tweet, declaring that transgender individuals would not be allowed to serve “in any capacity” in the military.
Through his Twitter account, Trump managed to once again enrage many Americans and confuse various US agencies. The response from the Department of Defense and Joint Chiefs has eased some worries, saying that, until they receive an official policy change, trans people are still allowed to serve openly. General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had this to say:
“No modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidelines. In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect.”
So the President tweeted, and the usual response followed. Lots of people were outraged (count me as one of them) and some were supportive — mostly social conservatives. But I also saw quite a few people who softly supported the “policy change,” citing some of the President’s claims about the issue in his tweet, and appealing to a sense of “I care about transgender people, but I also care about the military, and it just wouldn’t work out.”
The thing is, the President’s tweets are odd becuase they don’t seem to match with what the data says. Trump claims that he consulted with his Generals and military experts — suggesting they advised him it wasn’t a good idea — which may have been the case, but there has actually been a lot of research into the topic of integrating transgender service members, none of which supports the claims he makes later on. He claims that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruptions that transgender in the military would entail.” This statement, and its two assertions, are misleading because they assume that transgender service members would be costly and disruptive, both of which points have had serious doubts cast on them through a couple notable studies.
The first point regarding “tremendous medical costs” is contradicted by a June 2016 study by the RAND corporation, which was funded by the Department of Defense. Researchers found that health care for transgender military members would be between an estimated $2.4 and $8.4 million per year. Another study in the New England Journal of Medicine came up with estimates between $4.2 and $5.6 million. (If you are interested in their methodology, click on the link). Both of these estimates pale in comparison to the military’s entire health care budget, and to quote the study in the New England Journal of Medicine, when put next to the entire $47.8 billion annual budget, “[they amount to] little more than a rounding error.”
You know what costs more than the estimated amount for health-care for transgender military members? According to the Washington post, the military spends $84 million a year on erectile dysfunction medication, five times as much on viagra alone. According to another report by the Government Accountability Office, a trip to Mar-a-Lago for President Trump costs $3.6 million in fees encompassing Air Force One, which costs $180,000 an hour to fly, and personnel.
The second point, that transgender service members would be disruptive, is at odds with research too. The same study by the RAND corporation found that only 0.1% of military members would seek treatments that could delay deployments. For comparison, in 2015, 14% of the active component in the Army “were ineligible to deploy for various legal, medical, or administrative reasons.”
So, disruptive? No.
Expensive? Nope, not that either.
Another argument that didn’t show up in the President’s tweets but has been echoed by others on social media goes something like this:
the military shouldn’t be a petrie dish or a social experiment.
This statement indicates a sense of uncertainty about the whole issue, and, in a generous assessment, one could conclude that there might be some good intention behind that thought. But harm isn’t just done intentionally; often, it comes from ignorance. Aside from the hyperbole of describing transgender Americans in the military as a petrie dish, here’s the thing: the military has evolved, over time becoming more inclusive, and that has consistently come with pushback. And given the studies showing that having transgender people in the military is neither expensive nor disruptive, how could one still support the position that they shouldn’t be allowed to serve? Furthermore, how could one still hold that position while denying bias?
So, dissapointingly, this is the situation: we have a President who does not worry about the needs of LGBTQ Americans, who hides behind the pretense of good intention, and who so thoroughly distorts the truth that it hurts. Honestly, it felt easy to question why I was writing this. This new post-truth reality so many of us find ourselves in can be discouraging, and it takes a good amount of energy to sort through the BS coming from the White House these days. But it still matters to push back; it still matters to pursue truths.
And the truth is this: