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Why Transgender Military Service Can Never Be Trumped

31/07/2017 10:08 | Updated 31 July 2017
Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters

Last Wednesday President Trump tweeted a policy decision stating that: 'After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the US Government will not accept or allow... Transgender Individuals to serve in any capacity in the US 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'.

I have news for President Trump, transgender people will always be serving in the US military! Before October 2016, when President Obama's administration permitted open service, transgender people had always served, but they'd had to hide who they were. They stood on the frontline for their country in all the wars and campaigns it has ever waged. President Obama's decision wasn't a rushed one, he had also consulted with 'generals and military experts', and he'd listened to Department of Defense and independently commissioned research groups, considered evidence from military, medical, legal, financial and policy experts, from politicians, equality groups and diversity champions, by serving personnel and veterans. Nothing has changed, open transgender service isn't the real issue, bowing to advocates of transphobia and ignorance to cover up in-house turmoil is, and it is a dangerous one.

When I transitioned gender in the UK military in 1999, its bar on LGBT service still existed, based on unqualified assumptions of being a risk to national security and service morale. Hostile arguments against my service as a trans woman came from those who didn't know what being transgender truly meant. And especially from those who feared change, believed rumour, or plainly preferred archaic prejudices and ignorance. They declared that I 'wasn't fit to be in the military', I was 'a liability', 'a danger to personnel on the frontline', and like Trump has implied, 'a danger to the mission'. I was a navigator on Battlefield helicopters, inserting troops into combat locations, extracting them, repositioning or resupplying them, evacuating the critically injured and sometimes the dead, British and American, and allies. During many operational tours in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, my skills and knowledge were credited with enhancing the survivability and capability of aircraft, people, and the mission, earning several commendations for doing so!

I was fit to be in the military, and I happened to be transgender. I've always been transgender; ironically, I'd already carried the stress and trauma of hiding that secret through eighteen years of operational service, in fear of losing everything that discrimination, harassment, and dismissal without honour would bring. Serving openly didn't incur 'liability', or foster 'danger', it removed them, and it led to respect, and awareness, and positive change. Since the UK's bar was lifted in 2000, its armed forces have become openly proud champions of diversity. Most people in the military, from the highest to the lowest of ranks, didn't care; as long as I could do my job. If anything, they became supportive, and protective. But those that didn't want to understand, that closed their minds, the few, always shouted out loudly, and that is happening more now in America.

President Trump won't prevent transgender service, his declared aim is to remove those personnel already serving. Those people who trusted their country and stepped forward when told they could, without fear, now face losing more than their jobs. Taking away their income, their homes, their security and their future will leave them extremely vulnerable. And the US Armed Forces won't be in a rush to do that. They are trained, qualified and 'fit-to-fight' people. Saying 'I'm transgender' doesn't change that. The military experience and knowledge that would be lost can never be replaced, whilst the training costs of their replacements alone would far exceed the tremendously exaggerated medical costs that the White House presents.

Suggesting that a few thousand transgender people (at most) serving openly (amongst over one million other combatants) will detract from 'decisive and overwhelming victory' is a massive insult to the professional capability of the US Armed Forces. They had already embraced change, they had already accepted and adapted. Policy has already been implemented, and awareness training largely completed, having been initiated by the services well ahead of the DoD's 1st Nov 2016 deadline. Disruption will only come from stepping backwards not forwards.

America is embarrassed, its leadership mocked, its international regard as a champion of liberty is questioned. The morale of its fighting forces will be tested. LGB service personnel will worry for their own futures, what other laws will be rolled-back? Will it be equality of gender, race, or religion next? Young people will see the military as an employer that doesn't value people, a giant of respect driven by dinosaurs, they will ask 'why go there?'

But this has far wider implications than the military, a message has been sent that transgender people aren't fit to be in the military, it says they are a burden, they are disruptive and they are expensive, and the bigots and trolls will feed on that. Transphobia will be seen as more acceptable, sanctioned by the President himself, and that means lives will be put in danger, a worrying sign of a dehumanising process that still haunts lived-history.

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