July 1, 2017, could have been a historic day for transgender rights. The military was set to finalize its implementation of a rule allowing transgender members to enlist and serve openly. It was a day that was long overdue, and would have been the result of years of lobbying by community members, lawmakers and military officials.
Instead, the Trump administration hit the pause button on progress. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis announced a six-month delay in the implementation of the Obama-era order that would have enabled new trans-identifying members to enlist; the ban on open service by currently enlisted trans members was lifted last year. Mattis’ move was to purportedly allow for further consultation about military readiness.
However, reality flies in the face of Mattis’ suggestion that more time may be needed to evaluate the preparedness of the military to handle trans members — as trans members are already serving in the military. The issue has been studied, explored and evaluated extensively — for years — with finding after finding noting that open service by LGBT members would not disrupt military preparedness. That’s not to mention the unconstitutionality of banning military service by Americans who are otherwise qualified.
Apart from the exclusionary message this halt is sending to and about trans communities, the move is also a loss for the military. There very well may be many young trans people who are ready, willing and eager to join the military and devote their lives to serving our country; their prohibition from doing so is what’s truly damaging to the military. We are at a point right now where American morale and trust in our country’s leadership is at an all-time low; people who want to dedicate their work to upholding and preserving American freedom and democracy should not be discouraged from doing so.
Turning away eligible and qualified servicemembers based solely on gender identity is contrary to what our military is supposed to stand for. And suggesting that months and perhaps even years of study and preparations are needed to evaluate how to not discriminate is preposterous.
While the new administration is overrun by anti-trans bigots, most of our current leaders pride themselves on their belief in strengthening and investing in our military. Rooting out discrimination and divisiveness from our forces would take a needed step in that direction.