The Transgender Ban is All About Bigotry and Distraction

The Supreme Court just paved the way for Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military to move ahead, at least pending other court challenges. The ban will harm the military and help no one, while doing nothing to address the nation’s real problems.

I’m neither transgender nor in the military, but I count several trans people, including trans vets, among my closest friends. I can’t speak for them. I can, however, speak as their friend — and as a sociologist who teaches about gender at the college level.

Trump cites the cost of medical care for transgender people undergoing transition as the reason for his ban. Yet many transgender people never have surgery, and those who do may wait until after they’re finished serving in the military to do it.

Hormone treatments and gender confirmation surgeries for transgender service members together are estimated to cost $8.4 million annually at most — that’s five times less than the military spends on Viagra. And it’s nearly 200 times less than the Department of Defense spends on health care and lost days of work due to smoking.

And yet service personnel are allowed to smoke. In fact, service members at many commands often have an entire culture built around enabling tobacco use, despite all of the costs. If this were actually about the cost of military health care, perhaps a smoking cessation program would be a better option than a transgender ban.

Neither of my friends were aware that they were transgender when they enlisted in the military. They just wanted to serve their country.

Neither transitioned while they were serving, and one didn’t even realize she was trans until after she’d left the Marines. The other realized she was transgender while in the Navy and opted not to reenlist so she could transition without fear of being discharged. (She still works in the national security field as a civilian.)

Even with a ban, transgender people who haven’t yet realized or come to terms with being trans will continue to enlist and serve. A ban would mean wasting resources recruiting and training service members, only to discharge qualified personnel once they came out as trans or were outed.

Kicking trans service people out of the military wouldn’t only be extremely hurtful to the estimated 150,000 transgender people who have served, including 8,800 who are currently on active duty. It would also be a waste of money and disruptive to the entire military.

The transgender ban in the military has nothing to do with military readiness or cost — and everything to do with bigotry and transphobia. Trump is using the ban purely to provoke the left, throw red meat to his base, and distract us all from the real issues in our nation, like the government shutdown which continues to drain resources.

Transgender people in the military put their lives on the line (and sometimes lose their lives) to protect their fellow Americans. Excluding them because of their gender identities is a twisted way to thank them for their service.

It’s time to stop perpetuating hatred and distracting from real issues — and to stop using transgender people as a national scapegoat.

Jill Richardson is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.