Bigotry, not pragmatism, lies at the root of anti-transgender policies

Sam Groves

Can there be any justification for President Donald Trump’s recently announced intention to ban transgender people from serving in the military? In one of the tweets he fired off on Wednesday morning announcing the ban, Trump cited the “tremendous medical costs” that would supposedly burden the military if transgender people were allowed to serve.

Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas’ first congressional district made a similar argument on the floor of the House of Representatives earlier this month, bemoaning that the “United States Congress is in favor of taking men and surgically making them into women with the money that they would use to protect the nation otherwise.”

The argument that caring for transgender service member would be too expensive has been thoroughly debunked in the media since Trump made his announcement. A widely shared Washington Post article explains that medical care for transgender servicemen and women would cost just 0.0014 percent of the US defense budget — five times less than the military spends annually on erectile dysfunction pills.

Besides, the price is not as important as the fundamental principle that in America, we are willing to invest in the physical and mental health of those who offer up their lives in service of our country — no matter their gender identity.

There’s another argument, though, one that Trump hinted at in his tweets when he referred to the “disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” This “disruption” was more colorfully invoked by Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who said on Wednesday that the “military is not the place for leftist social experimentation.”

But if the armed forces are a fine-tuned machine — and allowing transgender people to serve would be like throwing a wrench in that machine — then we have to consider the already-functioning components of that machine. There are 15,500 transgender soldiers currently serving in the military. Transgender people are disproportionately represented in the military, and the military is the single biggest employer of transgender people in the United States.

Some of these people will be determined to serve no matter what. Will forcing them into hiding, requiring that they keep secrets from their fellow troops and live in constant fear of discovery, really make the military function better? It hardly seems likely.

The true motivation behind this ban — or intended ban, anyway — is not so different from the motivation behind Senate Bill 3, the “bathroom bill” making its way through the Texas legislature right now. Defenders of both policies offer “pragmatic” arguments for their implementation. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, a champion of SB3, has said that the bill is about protecting women’s privacy in public restrooms.

But transphobia, or at least an overwhelming discomfort with the idea that gender is not so rigid as we once thought, lies at the root of both. The secret hope of those who support anti-transgender policies is that their efforts will make it impossible to be transgender in America — that the whole phenomenon of gender-nonconformity will simply melt away. Then the minds of people like Donald Trump, Louie Gohmert, Sid Miller and Dan Patrick can be at ease.

But that will never happen, nor should it. Can there be any justification for banning transgender people from the military? Not unless you value the precious sensibilities of the few over the lives and livelihoods of many thousands.

Groves is a philosophy junior from Dallas. He is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @samgroves.