President Donald Trump’s announcement today of a total ban on transgender military service was wrong. But given the longstanding (and often successful) LGBT strategy of incrementalism and hyper-defensiveness, his move was unsurprising and perhaps inevitable.
There are indeed challenges with incorporating transgender individuals into the military that go way beyond the costs of surgery and of hormone therapy. Male soldiers who transition become physically less capable, which is why the military applies female fitness standards to trans women. It’s not transphobic to question whether a defense organization should allow its members to weaken themselves. Then there are the practical problems regarding uniform codes and housing in an institution that still treats men and women very differently; and the fact that US servicemembers spend a lot of time in countries that are less enlightened regarding gender. And will anybody join the military just to fund the costs of their transition?
I think the military can solve all these problems while maintaining its mission and being fair to people whose personal struggles in fact may have strengthened their character and temperament – making them real assets to our armed forces. But the LGBT community hasn’t treated this topic with any nuance (“The transgender service member ban serves no purpose,” declares one gay Web site). LGBT advocacy on the military (as other subjects) has been about “Gimme” as opposed to, “We want to protect the nation. How can transgender servicemembers and would-be servicemembers be most helpful?”
It’s part of the shopworn, aggressive LGBT playbook, in which any issue becomes us vs. them (and “them” is inevitably Republicans). Earlier this year when President Trump took the extraordinary step of squashing the vicious anti-gay executive order his Evangelical allies wanted, gay groups worked hard to find fault along the lines of “yes, but he almost did something very bad.”
With rhyming flair, gays have at various times dubbed Colorado. Wyoming, Indiana, and North Carolina the “Hate State,” just as California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 quickly became “Proposition Hate.” In fact, even slight changes LGBT folks disagree with are labeled hateful, such as when Indiana took a modest step to protect businesses from being forced to celebrate events they disagree with. Soon, the gay hysteria machine was unleashed, and people were lobbing insults and threatening boycotts as people tripped over each other to assuage wounded gay feelings.
Another gay strategy is to proclaim only modest goals, and then use earlier victories to demand more. A little-noticed example was that during the campaign for statewide gay rights laws in both Massachusetts and New York, gay advocates insisted they weren’t asking for marriage, and the text of the laws themselves even said they could not be used to support gay marriage in the state. Well, guess what? When each state’s highest court implemented gay marriage statewide, it relied in part on the very laws that were not supposed to support gay marriage.
With adoption, gay groups said they weren’t asking for marriage rights, just the chance to form families and raise children who might otherwise have no homes. Totally reasonable. But then during the gay marriage debate, a consistent refrain both from advocates and from justices was that only marriage could truly protect the children of same-sex parents. Well, maybe gay adoption wouldn’t have happened if everyone knew it was a step toward marriage equality. Under gay incrementalism, though, honesty and clarity about goals are far less important than winning. At everything.
And that includes winning at little things. The LGBT community was in a tizzy when President Trump overturned his predecessor’s transgender school policy, ignoring how few students the policy affected and especially the fact that Trump’s policy was the same as Obama’s for the first 7.5 years of his presidency.
But the best example of the short-sighted LGBT strategy came today. Out of a million and a half servicemembers, fewer than 10,000 are transgender. Even if you think an absolute ban on their service is wrong, as I do, should it be front-page news? We’re in the middle of a momentous health care debate. Congress is examining serious Russia-related charges against the administration. Why are opponents of the administration wasting even the tiniest amount of energy on this?
Because believe me, Trump wants them to. This morning’s announcement could not have been better timed to dissipate, at least temporarily, the sharks circling the administration regarding election improprieties. And for Trump, the less attention to the haphazard way Congress is reshaping the entire health care sector, the better.
I don’t agree with everything gays and lesbians have demanded on the national stage, but I would like to see the nation move to a point where someone’s sexual orientation is considered boring, and in no way an impediment to full participation in American life. But as we saw today, especially during a Republican administration, stridency and hair-trigger touchiness is not going to be an effective strategy to get us there.