The real lives behind trans bans like the one in the U.S. Military

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In July of 2017, Donald Trump announced plans to ban transgender troops from military service. As all great leaders do, he made this declaration via Twitter on a random Wednesday morning for no apparent reason. The very presidential three-part tweet went like this:

After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……

….transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..

….victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you

In truth, Trump’s “generals and military experts” had not asked him to ban trans troops, nor did they know he was considering it. As news broke that it was a serious initiative, stories of active duty trans troops fearing for their futures surfaced: Trump wasn’t just eliminating opportunities for new recruits, he was pursuing the removal of individuals already enlisted.

Commanders of these troops expressed confusion about the need for policy change, demonstrations took place around the country, and advocates launched media campaigns to combat misinformation about trans military personnel.

After more than a year of court filings, the Supreme Court ruled to allow the ban on trans troops while the lower courts move through pending litigation. Simply put, the ban on trans troops is in place, until a court rules that it isn’t.

The Numbers

Counting those affected is difficult. Accurate numbers require people disclosing identity, and there are a variety of reasons some people don’t risk that. There’s no way to know how many young trans people were actively considering enlistment prior to the ban, and we have to rely on whether or not someone currently serving felt comfortable disclosing information on a survey. Estimates of actively enlisted troops range widely from 2,100 to 15,000.

Opportunities Matter

Patriotism plays a part in why recruits enlist, but the overwhelming reason anyone joins the military is for economic opportunity. The ability to get a free college education, learn trade skills and gain access to home financing are all attractive offerings, particularly for those with less generational wealth and/or job prospects.

Trans people are more likely than our cisgender peers to have prolonged and severe financial struggles. According to a 2015 survey, 1 in 3 trans Americans lives in poverty. The military offers an ability to secure the very basics: stable housing, food, education and health care. Some sources even contend that the military as the largest employer of trans people in the world.

Trans Health Care Expenses

For the record, trans health care is also known as simply “health care.” If we choose to engage in transition-related care, it’s primarily managed during our annual exam. With the exception of a couple of extra blood panels, it’s basically the same.  As a trans man, my prescription doesn’t look much different than the ones the guys in the “low T” commercials have. Trans women have similar prescriptions to what my mother was given for early-onset menopause.

Even if we contemplate surgeries, the average cost of transition-related care for a trans service member is $40,000 over a lifetime. Meanwhile back at the ranch, the current cost of insulin can be upwards of $10,000 a yearand no one is suggesting diabetes as a disqualifier for enlistment.

Safety & Readiness

We know the Trump administration’s claim that trans troops have a negative impact on safety and readiness is a lie for a pretty strong reason: Trans troops already exist in the ranks. If they were creating problems, those stories would be plastered from sea to mother-effing shining sea.

In fact, denying trans troops the right to serve may actually threaten readiness. 71% of Americans in the target age demographic for recruitment are ineligible for service, which already shrinks the pool of possible enlistees to a precarious level. The Army has been so far off their enlistment goal, they will spend 700-million cold-ass American dollars on marketing in 2019.

When an entire group of people is banned from any area of public life based on immutable characteristics, everyone suffers. The trans ban is anti-civil liberties and anti-military. No one wins.

James Sheffield is an LGBTQ health advocate and trans man living in Atlanta.

This column originally ran in Q magazine. Read the full issue below:


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