We’ve been here before.
Last July, the Trump administration announced plans to ban transgender service members from the military, citing the burden of medical costs associated with gender reassignment surgery. But that ban faced many legal challenges and was held up in court for months.
Fast forward to late March of this year—the administration issued a new directive banning any transgender people who have plans to initiate a transition or have already completed one. Medical costs are still a factor here, but this directive also questions the mental health of those seeking to transition. This ban is not as finite as its predecessor; it allows for some discretion on the part of various government agencies. Under very limited circumstances, trans men and women can still enlist. But the message, regardless of how it’s repackaged, is still clear—this administration doesn’t want trans people serving in the military.
With this new directive comes new legal challenges. The ACLU is continuing its long-running petition against the ban, which has garnered 117,000 of the requested 125,000 signatures. And, almost immediately after the White House memo was released, Seattle federal judge Marsha J. Pechman questioned the ban’s constitutionality.
Clearly, the LGBTQ community and its allies will keep fighting to ensure trans service members are allowed to serve alongside everyone else. But in the meantime, what does this ban mean? The way forward isn’t exactly clear.
The legal challenges mentioned above are just two of several lawsuits and legal motions filed around the country. While the fate of the ban hangs in limbo, so does the status of current and future trans service members. It seems that, as of now, trans men and women can remain in the military and enlist. But there’s a looming possibility that they may be forced out or blocked at some point in the near future, should a federal decision overrule the numerous challenges. And, it’s possible that they could be turned away or discharged right now—moves that are currently legally protected.
It’s discomforting to think that these men and women are serving our country, and in many cases risking their lives, but at any moment, they could be dismissed, not for any wrongdoing or failure to meet service requirements, but because of their identity.
The New York Times’ Nathaniel Frank argues that gender transition could actually be a powerful weapon for the military—not a hindrance. Frank led a research initiative at Cornell University, which studied the aftereffects of transitioning on a global scale. He writes, “The vast majority of the studies, 93 percent, found that gender transition improved the overall well-being of transgender subjects, making them more likely to enjoy improved quality of life, greater relationship satisfaction and higher self-esteem and confidence, and less likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicidality.”
In other words, if the administration and the military are concerned about the well-being of its trans service members, blocking them from their truth is not the answer to stronger armed forces. Forcing them to deny who they are poses the threat of mental illness. Ostracizing them and discriminating against them leads to the very conditions that put them at risk.
So now, we wait. We wait for the outcome of the numerous nationwide challenges. We urge our friends and family to sign the ACLU’s petition and donate to keep its legal team afloat. We educate people, both within and beyond our community, to help them better understand our trans brothers and sisters and the problems they face.
More knowledge leads to better understanding and empathy and, hopefully, more inclusive policies.
This moment requires a fight—an ongoing conversation, action, and pushback—until all trans people can serve based on their commitment to our nation and not their pronouns.