Another View: Ban on transgender troops demeans true patriots

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Transgender members of the military shouldn't be objects of fear and derision, and their willingness to serve and sacrifice shouldn't be demeaned.

But with just a few sentences two years ago, President Trump did all of that.

In a series of tweets in July 2017 that surprised even our own military, Trump declared he was banning transgender Americans from the armed forces. Lawsuits followed, but last week the Supreme Court said the ban could move forward while the issue plays out in court.

Meanwhile, thousands of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen and women are left wondering whether their careers are over - if their willingness to fight and maybe die for our freedom is just not enough.

Trump says these patriots are not wanted because their presence in the military is a burden and a disruption.

In both arguments, he is wrong on the facts. But in this case, as with so many others, the president doesn't care about the facts.

The sudden announcement of the ban came as the Trump administration was discussing whether to end the use of public funds to pay for gender reassignment surgery for service members.

This by itself was an idea rooted in bigotry. Transgender service members make up just 1 percent of the military, and transition-related health care would cost the military no more than $8.4 million extra a year, according to the Rand Corp. Compare that with the $84 million the Pentagon spends every year on erectile dysfunction medication, and you'll see that it was not remotely about cost.

But Trump took it many steps beyond that, using social media to call for a nearly complete ban while the military was still studying the matter, catching his administration off guard.

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The audience for his impetuous order was neither his generals nor civilian leadership, but the president's longtime supporters. Not long before, they had united in favor of laws that sought to prevent transgender Americans from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.

It was a perfect wedge issue for the president to exploit, and the military ban was just an extension of that, along with initiatives to strip transgender Americans of other protections.

So Trump made up some bit about "costs and disruption" and tweeted it out without any regard for how it would affect the lives of as many as 15,000 service members, or how it would play in a country already experiencing an uptick in hate crime against transgender Americans.

The "disruption" argument is the same one used to keep African Americans, women and gays out of the military, and it is no less nonsense here.

A Rand study commissioned by the Pentagon under then-President Barack Obama found that allowing transgender people to serve openly would "have no significant impact on unit readiness." Six former surgeons general and an alphabet soup of major health organizations came to the same conclusion.

Most tellingly, the Rand study found, of the 994 service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria after Obama lifted the previous ban, 393 were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Only one did not complete the deployment because of mental health reasons.

But these service members are more than a number. They are more than their gender or the medications they need.

They are Americans like Brynn Tannehill, a former naval aviator whose quest to rejoin the military is in jeopardy. Or Patricia King, a 20-year veteran who completed three tours, or Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann, who has been deployed 11 times since enlisting in 2005.

Their service, and the service of so many others like them, is worthy of our appreciation. Americans should stand up and see that it is not so carelessly thrown away.

— The Portland (ME) Press Herald, Jan. 25


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