President Trump’s tweets are legendary, but few have aroused such fierce reaction as the one recently rescinding the “right” of transgender Americans to serve in the military. Not only have Democrats and leaders of the gay rights movement denounced this change; even some Republicans like Sen. John McCain have publicly expressed opposition, and pro-gay conservative organizations such as Log Cabin Republicans and American Unity Fund have also come out against it. Unfortunately, the president’s opponents have trotted out the usual clichés, accusing him of “discrimination,” a pejorative term used to demonize those who question the current policy as bigots and shut down debate by attacking their motives and character rather than address the real issues.
In fact, there is not, and never has been, the “right” of any class of citizens to join the armed forces. The military, in fact, “discriminates” against many classes of U.S. citizens. It’s ageist, for example: The maximum age for Army enlisted recruits is 35, while the Navy and Marines top out at ages 34 and 28, respectively. Those with serious medical conditions such as diabetes or obesity or who have physical limitations or impairments, those with any form of mental illness, those who aren’t U.S. citizens or have criminal records, to name just a few, are also prohibited from serving. Until recently, gay men and lesbians were banned, but that policy was rightly changed in 2010.
As with other groups of people excluded from service, there are a number of compelling reasons why the current policy of allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military should be reconsidered. Despite the fact that there are transgender Americans currently serving, “gender dysphoria,” as it is labeled in the medical literature, is still considered a mental illness in every country in the world except Denmark. Some of the most influential medical references in the world, including the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD), continue to categorize gender dysphoria as a mental disorder.
In this country, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, serves as the primary authority for psychiatric diagnoses, and it too classifies gender dysphoria as a mental disorder. Forty percent of transgender individuals attempt suicide, ten times the rate in the general population, which would clearly affect their ability to serve, not to mention the morale and safety of their fellow soldiers.
The cost of their medical needs far surpasses that of other service members. According to a 2016 RAND Corporation study, between 29 and 129 transgender service members would opt to transition to the opposite gender every year, at a cost of between $2.4 and $8.4 million, and their medical needs are higher even after their transition, 14 times higher than the average recruit. According to this study, 18 countries allow transgender people to serve, and they “have found that, in some cases, it may be necessary to restrict deployment of transitioning individuals to austere environments where their health needs cannot be met.” To ignore the potential consequences of these issues on the cohesion, readiness, and effectiveness of military units because it is politically incorrect to do so would be a grave mistake and an insult to the overwhelming majority of service members.
It’s hard to say how many active-duty transgender service members there are, but the often-used figure by gay rights and transgender organizations of 15,000 is marketing hyperbole. According to Snopes.com, a fact-checking website, “The Rand study estimated a range of between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender personnel actively serving, and anywhere from 830 to 4,160 serving in the reserves.” RAND cautioned, however, that there is very limited data about transgender people in both the general population and the military, so there is nothing certain about any of these numbers. Given that active-duty armed forces total 1.3 million, however, the argument that re-instating the ban on transgender service members would endanger American security and military might is ludicrous.
It should be noted that forcing enlisted men and women, as well as officers, to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with those who have not transitioned is a shocking invasion of their privacy, no less so than forcing high school students to comingle in high school locker rooms and showers, a policy designed to appease a tiny minority at the expense of everyone else.
How this change will ultimately play out is uncertain, and the Pentagon has said there will be no changes in the current policy until there are specific guidelines about how the new policy would be implemented. Fair enough, but the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm., Paul F. Zukunft, an Obama appointee, has announced he will disregard President Donald Trump’s new policy, saying he “will not break faith” with the 13 transgender service members he says are under his command. Apparently, “breaking faith” with his sworn duty to follow the orders of the commander-in-chief is another matter.
This policy is not an attack on the LBGT community any more than the military’s age restrictions are an attack on people over 35. It is about what best serves the interest of the military and its mission of defending the homeland. This issue should be decided on the basis of sober analysis and real data, not appeals to emotion or “fairness” or identity politics, which are so far, unfortunately, the only arguments put forth by the opponents of the new policy.
David Lampo is author of A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights. He previously served on the boards of Log Cabin Republicans and Equality Virginia.