The big argument defending the trans military ban just got debunked ... by the military.

Among its latest reasons for attempting to ban transgender people from the military (again), the Trump administration points to potential disruptions to something called "unit cohesion" — basically, how well members of a troop work together.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis wrote that allowing trans people to serve in the military "could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the  military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality."

Using that memo, Trump announced that trans people would be "disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances." The entire process was clearly just a way to reverse-engineer a rationale for implementing his impulsive July 2017 tweets on the subject.


Yet while the ban remains tied up in courts, trans people continue to serve openly in the military — which means we can see how those claims hold up in the real world. Let's take a look at the three most important ones.

President Donald Trump addresses members of the Air Force in September 2017. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

1. Is that unit cohesion narrative legit?

Over the past several weeks, chiefs of staff for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard have all weighed in — offering a surprising, and pretty much unanimous, answer.

Testifying before the Senate on April 12, Gen. Mark Milley, the Army's chief of staff, was asked by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), "Are you aware of any problems with unit cohesion arising? ... Have you [heard] anything, how transgender service members are harming unit cohesion?"

"No, not at all. ... We have a finite number [of trans service members]," he replied. "We know who they are, and it is monitored very closely because, you know, I'm concerned about that and want to make sure that they are in fact treated with dignity and respect. And no, I have received precisely zero reports of issues of cohesion, discipline, morale, and all those sorts of things. No."

GIF via Political News/YouTube

Five days later, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), asked Vice Adm. Karl Schultz, the incoming Coat Guard commandant, the same question. He replied, "I am not aware of any disciplinary or unit cohesion issues resulting from the opening of the Coast Guard to transgender individuals."

On April 19, Gillibrand asked Adm. Jon Richardson, the Navy's chief naval officer, and Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, whether they were aware of any issues resulting from open service.

"We treat every one of those sailors, regardless, with dignity and respect that is warranted by wearing the uniform of the United States Navy. By virtue of that approach, I am not aware of any issues," replied Richardson.

GIF from CSPAN.

"There's 27 Marines that have identified as transgender ... . I am not aware of any issues in those areas," said Neller.

Finally, on April 23, Gillibrand asked Air Force Chief of Staff, General David Goldfein, whether he was aware of any "issues of morale or discipline resulting from open transgender service." He responded, "The way you present the question, I have not."

GIF from CSPAN.

2. How about that popular argument put forward by Trump about transgender troops' "tremendous medical costs"?

"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," Trump tweeted on the morning of July 26, 2017. "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."

Of course, pretty much none of this is accurate. A study commissioned by the Defense Department found that the total added cost of allowing trans people to service and access health care would amount to somewhere between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually. To put that in perspective, the military spends as much as ten times that amount annually on erectile dysfunction medication. That same study found no basis in cost, cohesion, or medical status to prevent trans people from serving in the military.

People protest the trans military ban outside of the White House on July 26, 2017. Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

3. Then there are those who say trans people simply aren't fit to serve, medically. Is that true?

In a letter on April 3 addressed to Mattis, American Medical Association CEO Dr. James Madara wrote, "There is no medically valid reason — including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria — to exclude transgender individuals from military service.  Transgender individuals have served, and continue to serve, our country with honor, and we believe they should be allowed to continue doing so."

On March 26, the American Psychological Association slammed the administration for its "misuse of psychological science to stigmatize transgender Americans and justify limiting their ability to serve in uniform and access medically necessary health care," adding, "Substantial psychological research shows that gender dysphoria is a treatable condition, and does not, by itself, limit the ability of individuals to function well and excel in their work, including in military service."

Dr. Joycelyn Elders testifies before the Senate during her confirmation hearings in July 1993. Photo by Kort Duce/AFP/Getty Images.

Former Surgeons General Joycelyn Elders (who served under Bill Clinton) and David Satcher (who served under Clinton and George W. Bush) came out with a joint statement on the issue, writing, "We are troubled that the Defense Department’s report on transgender military service has mischaracterized the robust body of peer-reviewed research on the effectiveness of transgender medical care as demonstrating 'considerable scientific uncertainty.' In fact, there is a global medical consensus that such care is reliable, safe, and effective."

Sure, that's what a bunch of experts say. But a small group of anti-LGBTQ activists and a famously anti-LGBTQ vice president have a few thoughts, too.

Though the White House has been extremely reluctant to divulge how they arrived at the decision to try and ban trans service members and who was involved in those conversations, Slate's Mark Joseph Stern landed on a bit of a scoop:

"According to multiple sources, Vice President Mike Pence played a leading role in the creation of this report, along with Ryan Anderson, an anti-trans activist, and Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ lobbying group. Mattis actually supports open transgender service, but he was effectively overruled by Pence, and chose not to spend his limited political capital further defending trans troops. In a memo released on Friday, Mattis encouraged Trump to ban transgender people from enlisting in the military, and to discharge those service members who wish to transition. Trump has now formally adopted these suggestions."

Here's hoping that the courts, while ever increasing in their Trumpiness, stand on the side of expertise, science, and facts over anti-LGBTQ culture warriors. The arguments being made here, especially ones about unit cohesion, are the same ones used to keep people of color, women, and gays, lesbians, and bisexuals out of the military — this just just the latest hurdle.

The Trump administration has taken aim at trans people during these first 15 months in office. Whether it's banning trans people from the military, giving doctors the green light to refuse trans people medical treatment, reversing course on a policy intended to protect trans students, argued that trans people aren't covered by employment non-discrimination laws, and more. It's an obsession that goes beyond the military, which is why it's so important to fight back against bigotry, starting here.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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