President Donald Trump has broken another campaign promise. While running, he promised to be a friend of the LGBTQ community, yet now he is apparently changing military policy with tweets that banned transgender individuals from serving in the United States Armed Forces.
These statements are at complete odds with current Department of Defense policy and leave many unanswered questions—which is what happens when you blindside everyone with a vague, discriminatory post on social media.
In his tweet—instead of a formal order—announcing a ban on transgender service members, Trump cited “the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
I do not know what military “disruption” Trump is talking about. For ten years, I led soldiers as an officer in the United States Army. I know that we can effectively integrate transgender soldiers into the military, just as we integrated African Americans, women, and gay or lesbian soldiers.
I have personally worked with transgender troops without any issues. From my experience with transgender individuals, there has never been any adverse impact on the mission.
Moreover, the “tremendous medical costs” of transgender reassignment surgery is immaterial compared to other medical treatment. Other publications have reported that the military spends 10 times more on erectile dysfunction medication than transgender medical services. Is the military more committed to enabling servicemembers to have sex than provide medical treatment that transgender people deserve? This defies logic.
In his tweets, Trump mentioned “[g]enerals and military experts” who provided advice on this ban, yet it’s unclear which “experts” he is referencing. Defense Secretary and former General James Mattis has supported a more inclusive military, lobbying against prohibitions for transgender individuals, as have many others in the military leadership. Mattis, one of Trump’s top military advisors, was reportedly disgusted by the tweets, which allegedly caught him off guard while on vacation.
Though no formal policy change has occurred, there appears to be little difference between the rationale for this transgender ban and the now-reversed, backwards “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy: that openly homosexual troops could undermine unit integrity and undermine morale. This was far from true. Regrettably, Trump intends to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Reversing the military’s acceptance of transgender soldiers is nonsense, and fitting of a commander-in-chief ignorant of the military and its policies. This is not surprising; After all, Trump did receive five draft deferments during the Vietnam War. This reprehensible new policy is an insult to all those who served and sacrificed so much while keeping their gender identity hidden for fear of reprisal.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy disqualified homosexual service members and discharged soldiers from active duty if they were outed or honest about their sexual preference. This tragic policy led homosexual individuals to be discriminated against, and it created suspicion within the ranks—achieving quite the opposite of the original intention. Some of my military peers and subordinates were closeted for years, and they uncomfortably hid this from everyone to continue serving.
Trump alleges that transgender servicemembers would cause a “disruption” that would have an adverse impact on unit cohesion, morale, and discipline. Instead, the transgender ban has already caused a disorder in military ranks, especially among the military leadership whom were not read into this executive action, and also with the many openly transgender individuals who are concerned about their future in the military.
This ban undermines trust within our military, contributing to the very disruption Trump hopes to prevent. This reality does not seem to matter for a man focused on his own ego and narcissism.
I want the finest soldiers the military can recruit. This is about our national security. I don’t care about their gender identity. I care if they can help us keep America safe. One’s gender identity should matter little in the face of mission requirements. Announcing a policy that threatens the livelihood of service members and making them question whether they can continue to serve because of an ambiguous tweet is insulting and degrading.
To say that transgender individuals are not fit to serve in the military is discriminatory. And frankly, it’s a silly policy likely designed by an individual or individuals who know nothing about the military.
Members of both parties—Democrat and Republican alike—should come together to defeat Trump’s attempt to undermine inclusive military values. This is not what the military should be about. Our military is the best in the world, and I want to keep it that way. That is why I support an inclusive military representing people from all walks of life, including those who are transgender.
One of the military’s greatest strengths is the diversity of our service. I saw that while serving, and I continue to see that in the diverse force we have to this day. Let’s not prosecute or discriminate against someone because of their sexual identity. That is not just wrong. It is un-American, undermines the mission, and the undermines the core principles our military stands to protect.
Matthew J. Fecteau is a M.P.A. candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, a former Congressional candidate, and an Iraq War veteran.
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