6 Things You Can Do in Response to Trump’s Repression of Trans and Non-Binary Folks

Not just a worse version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

That’s what Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center is quoted as saying in the NYT — that today’s presidential tweet is “creating a worse version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

This is the path to Don’t Exist Here, Don’t Exist There, Don’t Exist Anywhere.

Today marks the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman’s order to desegregate the U.S. military in 1948. Today is also the day that our current president announced that he supports barring transgender individuals from being allowed or accepted as serving in the military. What a mess of irony.

A tweet is not policy or an executive order. That’s a good thing to remember given how charged the nation is, how fear is in the air we breathe.

The New York Times reports that the Pentagon was surprised by this announcement, having spent the past year following the order of the previous president to make more receptive the military to the transgender soldiers already serving. There are trans soldiers already serving throughout the military, according to Matthew F. Thorn, even on elite Navy Seals teams. Thorn is the Executive Director of OutServe-SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network), an organization that has vowed to take the current president to court over this tweet if it goes into the realm of policy.

Despite generous overestimation in Caitlin Jenner’s tweet, one study (the RAND corporation) tells us that there are currently 2,450 transgender active-duty military — this, out of 1.3 million. If you do the math, this is one-fifth of one percent. (Though there are others numbers out there. NPR reported today that last year then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter quoted Rand saying there were 11,000–7,000 in active and 4,000 in reserves.)

Granted, the real number is likely somewhere between Jenner’s 15,000 and RAND’s 2,500 as reported in today’s NYT. A number worthy of notice and full inclusion, but not worthy of the efforts to falsely blame for health care costs in the military, as Representative Vicky Hartzler, Republican of Missouri, has done. Her recent amendment to the Pentagon budget bill, would have barred payment for hormone therapy or gender affirmation surgery. It narrowly failed, but rest assured, it — or some other version of this legislative hate — will be back. Red herrings and gaslighting always come back in an environment like this.

Yes, this tweet is most likely yet another distraction from the other intensely destructive intrusions on our democracy perpetrated by the current administration.

Yet let us also be clear that this is also an ongoing and concerted campaign to demean and denigrate the humanity of a whole group of people — some of whom are dear to me: friends, colleagues, family members — and all of whom I affirm, as does my faith, as fully human, already whole and holy.

Don’t exist in the military.
Don’t use the public bathroom.
In fact, don’t exist in a body that needs to use the bathroom.
What comes next?

Violence towards transgender people is on the rise. In particular, fatal violence towards transgender women of color is growing at a horrific rate: in 2016, there were 22 murders of transgender individuals in the U.S. Halfway through 2017, we are already at 15. Given that all hate crimes are on the rise, given the permission granted explicitly and implicitly by the current administration, it is not a stretch to connect the dots. Dots of exclusion by policy or executive order. Dots of legislated loss of protections. Dots of increased hate crimes and homicide.

What dot is next? We are not Chechnya, where there are reports of modern day gay concentration camps. Yet this nation has a history of internment camps. And a current administration stocked with deceitful, greedy, power-hungry people who espouse hate of all sorts. We must stay vigiliant.

In this era of rising authoritarianism, too often there has been the need to invoke the powerful words Martin Niemöller, spoken in the early post-WWII years. First they came for the… and what follows is a list of groups of people: trade unionists, socialists, Jews, etc. Sometimes the list of people in the quote changes because Niemöller spoke extemporaneously, yet it always ended the same way: And then they came for me, but there was no one left to speak up for me. These words continue to speak to us, for instance, with this year’s Muslim travel ban, protest signs rose up:

First they came for the Muslims and we said ‘NOT THIS TIME’.

It is time — well past, actually — that more of us rise up with this same sentiment applied to our transgender kindred. As Brynne Tannehill noted nearly eighteen months ago, the Family Research Council outlined a “five-point plan to legislate transgender people out of existence by making the legal, medical, and social climate too hostile for anyone to transition in.” Those five points, summarized here by Tannehill:

1. States and the federal government should not allow legal gender marker changes.
2. Transgender people should not have any legal protections against discrimination, nor should anyone be forced to respect their identity.
3. Transgender people should not be legally allowed to use facilities in accordance with their gender identity.
4. Medical coverage related to transition should not be provided by the government, or any other entity.
5. Transgender people should not be allowed to serve in the military.

It is no coincidence that today’s policy announcement reflects #5, that Representative Hartzler’s amendment reflects #4, that we have seen in states (NC, TX, etc.) bills to limit access to public bathrooms (#3).

Concerted effort. Ongoing effort. Hateful effort.

What, then, to do?

1 — Resist efforts to make transgender people less than human, less than worthy. Especially if you are cisgender (as I am) and understand yourself as an ally (as I do), affirm our shared humanity. We must use our privilege as a super power for good.

2 — Listen to a variety of trans voices. Sure, you can pay attention to Caitlin Jenner, but she voted for Trump. How about listening to LaVerne Cox, instead? Or better yet, here is a list of ten trans activists to pay attention to on Twitter, including Mara Keisling and Janet Mock. Within my own faith movement (Unitarian Universalism), I pay attention to what Rev. Sean Dennison has to say — you can find him on his public Facebook posts or on Twitter. (Twitter does seem to be the place to be…)

3 — Speak up — publicly, in social media, and within your in-person networks — in support of transgender and gender-creative people, including support for full inclusion in the military (even if you don’t support the military!). Say something at work, or at your house of worship, or at a family meal. The more you practice, the stronger and more courageous you will feel.

4 — Remember that this tweet from the current president, despite a persistent pattern of announcing important things via Twitter, is an announcement, not a policy decision. Not yet. Let’s keep it that way.

5 — Strengthen organizations already in place to support LGBT folks in the military, such as SPART*A, whose “mission is to advocate for and support our actively serving LGBT military members and veterans, and their families, while working to ensure the military provides equal opportunity for all service members regardless of race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

6 — Donate to those organizations that already support trans folx who may be struggling with the dispersed hate and threatening environment we are currently living in. Such a group is Trans Lifeline, which is dedicated to the well being of transgender people and runs a hotline.

Let us remember: no one is free until all are free. Your liberation is bound up with my liberation and my liberation is bound up with yours.

Let us get free together.