In July, President Trump announced via Twitter that transgender people would no longer be able to serve in the United States Military. This was an unusual move, and senior officials in the military stated that they would not take directions from Twitter, and would instead wait for formal instruction. On the 25th of August, he made a formal instruction to the Pentagon that no transgender people were to be recruited.
As for currently serving transgender people, the Secretary of Defense James Mattis (pictured below) has been given the authority to decide their futures; he must do so by March 2018, pending a review of the effect on military readiness. One key policy is that federal funds must no longer be used for medications and surgeries used in transition, except for where this would have a negative impact on the health of those in the process of transitioning.
It is not known how many transgender individuals serve or have served in the US Military. Many remain in the closet, forced to present as the gender they were assigned at birth. They may have only felt free to transition after they had finished their service. Some may fear that they might now have to go back into the closet or even de-transition in order to continue serving, a vast difference to when Obama allowed them to serve as openly transgender individuals in the last year of his presidency.
It is not clear how this will affect the health care needs of transgender veterans, either. The US Department of Veteran Affairs says there are approximately 5,000 openly transgender veterans who access their services, and may receive counselling and assessments based on their transgender status. The change in policy may make transgender veterans more reluctant to seek help.
It’s also important to consider the school leavers who frequently sign up for a period of service in the US Military. This is often to escape poverty or difficult home situations, as well as providing access to a college education which they may not be able to get otherwise. That kind of escape can be particularly appealing to those struggling with their gender identity, as they may face strain such as living with parents who are transphobic. Subsequently, this change in law will force these young transgender people to stay in the closet, meaning that they may not be able to transition until later in life.
The military is an important part of US culture, and serving in the military is something that often commands a great deal of respect. Excluding transgender people further reinforces transphobic attitudes, as it sends a message that they may not be worthy of serving their country. This also emboldens anti-trans lawmakers and activists, who will see President Trump’s move as a sign that they have his support in discriminating against transgender people.
The way President Trump has framed his policy decision – claiming it relates to the health care costs of transitioning – has broader implications. It suggests that transgender people may be a burden, whether it be to the state, whoever employs them or their healthcare provider. There is violence to transgender people across the United States, and the message that they are a burden reinforces that violence.
Transgender people are a vulnerable group in the United States, and this decision sends a message that they will not have protection or support from their government. Doors are closing for transgender youth (who have shockingly high suicide rates), and this may be only the first step in the Trump administration’s mission to roll back rights for transgender people. The implications for transgender people who have served or are currently serving are huge, but there are also implications for the transgender population as a whole. Every policy that limits the freedom of transgender people stigmatises them, and this in turn could contribute to violence toward them.
The US Military provides a livelihood for people from a diverse range of backgrounds, and all of those people deserve the same rights. In Trump’s America, I fear for transgender people. I fear for their ability to live openly, their access to healthcare and for what they will face next under this administration.