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Trump’s Transgender Ban is Back, and it’s Still Terrible

Recently, President Trump had his extramarital affair with a porn star exposed on national television, and his administration slapped China with tariffs that could start a trade war. In this never-ending news cycle, you might have missed the latest crisis: Trump just released the newest version of his ban on transgender troops.

In July, the president Twitter-announced (yes, that’s a thing now) a blanket ban on transgender enlistment in the military, and cited “the tremendous medical costs and disruption” inclusion would supposedly entail.Yet this proposal got caught up in court challenges, and was never actually implemented. Here’s where Trump’s new order enters: The updated policy will still bar most transgender people from military service, but carves out a few narrow exceptions, and wouldn’t apply to transgender soldiers who are already enlisted.

It’s good that currently-enlisted soldiers won’t be affected, but the remaining restrictions are really just a thinly-veiled form of discrimination. Anyone with a “history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria” will be barred from serving, which could be applied to any transgender person who is uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth. The new order also mandates that “transgender persons who require or have undergone gender transition are disqualified from military service.” With those two broad rules now in place, many otherwise capable transgender recruits could be barred from enlistment.

The Trump administration is turning its back on transgender people, despite the fact that the president was the first Republican to openly court the LGBT vote during his campaign. He promised to be a friend of the LGBT community, and even held up the rainbow flag at one of his rallies. Those promises might not have been sincere, but Trump was still one of the first conservatives to even say the word “LGBT” during the Republican National Convention. Trump was joined on stage by prominent gay Republicans, and actually praised the audience when they cheered for LGBT rights.

For a time during the campaign, I hoped that Trump could be a new kind of conservative, a Republican whose talk about individual freedom would extend beyond gun ownership and low taxes. But now that he’s president, Trump has flip-flopped on LGBT equality, while hiding behind talking points about healthcare costs, and concerns over “unit cohesion.” He’s argued that transition surgery and hormone therapies are too expensive, and that including transgender troops could strain social dynamics in a way that harms military morale – but these arguments fall apart under closer scrutiny, and leave Trump’s betrayal bare.

A 2016 study from the RAND Corporation found that integrating transgender people into the military would increase healthcare costs by somewhere between $2.4 to $8.4 million each year. That might sound like a lot, but put that in the context of a $655 billion military budget recently passed by Republicans, and it would only be a roughly “0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.” Is that too steep a price for equality?

If the opposition is really just to paying for expensive transition surgeries, the military could always admit transgender soldiers but not cover sex change surgery or hormone therapy on their health insurance. Yet the military spends over$80 million a year on Viagra – so it’s clear that concerns over cost aren’t really the issue.

There’s no actual evidence that including transgender people has harmed military cohesion either. There are roughly 1,000 to 6,000 transgender people already serving, and RAND concluded that their inclusion has only a “minimal impact” on readiness.

When foreign militaries lifted their bans on transgender troops, there weren’t any negative effects on preparedness or cohesion. The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Israel and over a dozen other countries have all embraced transgender integration in their armies. Even Cuba allows transgender enlistment to some extent – do we really want to lag behind a communist dictatorship?

Even if integration did have some impact on unit cohesion, that wouldn’t be a reason to deny transgender people the opportunity to serve their country. If a transgender soldier’s presence is disruptive or others have issues serving alongside them, that’s a reflection on their peers, not them. Any government employment policy based on social dynamics is inherently unfair. Arguments about “unit cohesion” were used to resist the integration of black soldiers – but the civil rights movement still had to happen, even if it made somepeople uncomfortable.

Times have changed, and our policy should too. Nearly 40 percent of Americans realize that our society hasn’t done enough to accept transgender people, and 37 percent  know someone who is transgender. Trump’s new policy discriminates against our friends, neighbors, classmates, and fellow Americans. A lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union called Trump’s new ban “transphobia masquerading as policy,” and this assessment can honestly be considered an understatement.

Trump can pass as many anti-LGBT laws as he wants, and while this might appease his socially conservative base, it can’t make the president’s porn star problem disappear, or end the chaos plaguing his administration. President Trump should stop targeting transgender soldiers, and start dealing with his own immorality.

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Brad Polumbo is a Young Voices Advocate, and a freelance opinion journalist. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Washington Examiner, and National Review.

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