By Scott Taylor
On July 26, U.S. President Donald Trump sent out a series of tweets to the effect that the American military will no longer “allow or accept” transgender personnel in its ranks.
At the time of sending out the transgender tweets, Trump’s White House was in the midst of the most vicious infighting since The Donald was sworn into office on Jan. 20. If by sending out these unexpected tweets Trump was hoping to generate controversy for the purpose of deflecting the media focus from his embattled regime, then the U.S. president is not as crazy as he looks. The transgender ban blew up an immediate backlash from human rights groups and LGBTQ activists worldwide.
The sheer shocking content of Trump’s transgender ban messages caused pundits to forget that the U.S. military is governed by Congressionally approved policies, not by presidential tweets. In response to the growing controversy, it was none other than U.S. Gen. Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who advised the media that “there will be no modifications” to the current policy regarding the employment of transgender personnel.
Under a year-old plan brought in by former president Barrack Obama, there are currently an estimated 15,000 personnel in the U.S. military who identify as transgender, and of that number 6,000 are on active duty. No doubt Trump’s proclamation that “the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military” will be incredibly worrisome to this veritable legion of transgender people already in uniform.
The two reasons Trump cited for the ban were the “tremendous medical costs” and the “disruption” to unit cohesion that these individuals generate.
Number crunchers were quick to calculate that the currently serving transgender personnel cost the military health services between $2.4 million and $8.4 million (U.S.) a year.
While this is not chump change, to keep things in perspective, the U.S. military annually spends in excess of $84 million on drugs such as Viagra to remedy erectile dysfunction.
As for Trump’s allegations that transgender soldiers would be a disrupting factor within their units, one need only take a short walk down memory lane.
Up until 1948, racial segregation was the official policy of the U.S. military. Throughout the U.S. civil war, the First World War and the Second World War, black volunteers were segregated into their own units, most often with white officers and usually relegated to a support role rather than frontline combat duties.
Canada similarly segregated blacks and Asians into labour battalions during the First World War, as the racist attitudes of the day led to the common belief that they made inferior soldiers and would be a disruptive factor if merged with the predominantly Anglo-Saxon combat regiments.
Canada was ahead of the U.S. in terms of racial integration, and in 1982 we took a major step in terms of sexually integrating our armed forces by allowing women into heretofore men only combat arms trades. The previous rationale for keeping women out of the frontlines was that their presence would be a disruption. The Canadian military’s performance in the Balkan peacekeeping missions of the 90s and the decade-long deployment to Afghanistan has since proven the merit of co-ed combat units.
The U.S. military quietly followed our lead and began allowing females into combat trades in 2013.
Canada lifted the ban on LGBTQ personnel serving in uniform in 1992, and has subsequently funded dozens of sexual reassignment surgeries over the past 20 years. It is estimated that around 200 personnel serving in the Canadian Armed Forces identify as transgender. Previous thinking was that LGBTQ soldiers would be a disruption to their units. Again, experience on the battlefield and in garrison has proven that this is not the case.
Soldiers put more stock in their comrades’ professionalism and dedication, rather than the colour of their skin, their gender or their sexual preference. But having never served in uniform himself, Trump has no way of knowing that.