The big argument defending the trans military ban just got debunked ... by the military.
None of the reasons hold up to even a little scrutiny.
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."
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.
"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."
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.