On July 26, 2017, @realDonaldTrump tweeted his intent to reinstate the ban on transgender members of the military openly serving, reversing a policy decision made by the Obama Administration. He tweeted, “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…” July 26 is the same date President Harry Truman issued Executive Order (EO) 9981, which desegregated all US armed forces. Like Trump’s transgender ban, Truman’s EO met with a great deal of controversy. Those who wanted to preserve segregation in the military and American society were outraged by Truman’s ban. And those who wanted to eliminate segregation and lift black and brown Americans from state-sanctioned, second class citizenry celebrated EO 9981. Those outraged by Trump’s policy shift recognize it as a blow to inclusion, much like racism and sexism.
President Trump’s tweet created mass confusion. The Department of Defense (DoD) was compelled to make a statement that they would not change their transgender policy based on a tweet, and that the Obama policy would remain in effect until they were provided with a written directive. President Trump issued such a memorandum to the DoD in August 2017, which was immediately challenged in court my six transgender service members. Four injunctions were imposed, blocking the new policy from going into effect. In March 2018, former Defense Secretary Mattis issued a refined, more comprehensive policy. His policy maintained that transgender service members already serving would be allowed to remain in service provided they met the physical requirements for service and were deployable within one year, or their diagnosis of gender dysphoria was made after joining the military but prior to the new policy going into effect. But Mattis’ policy still included that any new entrants into the military would have to be stable in their birth gender for thirty-six months prior to joining the military, and would not require sex-reassignment surgery due to diagnosis of gender dysphoria. On January 22, 2019 The Supreme Court voted five to four to stay the injunctions and allowed the refined Trump Transgender Policy to go into effect while the court battles on its legality proceed. The DoD implemented the revised Trump policy on April 12, 2019.
Though transgender service members make up less than one percent of the total force, the new Trump policy cast dispersions on the military’s fundamental tenant that all Americans have the right to serve provided they meet the height, weight, vision, and other functional, physical requirements of military service. The new policy also gives trans-phobic leaders within the military carte blanche authority to discriminate against transgender members by separating them from service based on innuendo or false allegations.
Naval academy graduate Ensign Alexandra Marberry is one such example. Ensign Marberry was one of the first transgender service members permitted to transition while on active duty under the Obama policy, and she began her transition in October 2016. She was serving aboard the USS Winston when her commanding officer summoned her. With no explanation, her commander gave her one hour to gather her things and get off the ship. Marberry later found out that she was accused of groping another officer whom she believed to have been a friend. Though she denied the allegation and a Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigation did not produce any evidence of wrongdoing, Ensign Marberry resigned her commission under pressure from her commanding officer rather than risk court martial. She was then forced to pay back $59,621.62 for her Naval Academy education. Marberry was cited for misconduct on her discharge papers and did not receive an honorable discharge, disqualifying her from many Veterans’ Administration benefits.
Marberry is one of 14,700 transgender military service members affected by this policy as the administration has turned their noses up at them for being born how they were born. Many of these patriots now serve at the mercy of biased leaders who will exploit hostile policies and indifference to prop-up their personal sensibilities. Ray Mabus, a former secretary of the Navy, told CNN the policy has not one shred of evidence behind it. He said: ”In fact, all the evidence goes the other way. It goes against the basic American notion that it should be about what you can do and not who you are. . . . To do this to patriots who are willing to serve—not only willing, but eager to serve, who have raised their hands and said send me—weakens our democracy and seriously weakens our military." It also damages morale among those service members who are not transgender but who recognize this ban as unjust.
The historical similarities between the transgender ban and previous forms of discrimination in the US are striking. Former South Carolina Congressman, Trey Gowdy applauded the court’s removal of the injunctions. Gowdy stated, “no one has a right to serve in the military.” This is the same flawed logic Marine Corps Major General Thomas Holcombe used in 1941 when he testified before the Navy’s General Board, arguing against allowing black and other non-white men to serve in the Marine Corps. Holcombe stated, blacks have “no right to serve in the Marine Corps. The negro has every opportunity now to satisfy its aspirations for combat by serving in the Army.” Holcombe characterized blacks’ desire to serve in the Marine Corps as an “attempt to gain admittance into a club that doesn’t want them.”
Transgender persons make up about one percent of the total force. Statistically they are insignificant, but as a matter of principal, policy, and humanity, their ability to serve is pivotal in the debate over what we want America to stand for. America’s armed services are not social experiments. They are, however, institutions in the greatest social experiment in the history of the world—the experiment called American Democracy. The more our institutions reflect our founding principles—that all people are created equal and should be treated as such—the better we are as a nation, and the greater example we set for the world.
Troy Mosley, author of Unwritten Truce: the Armed Forces and American Social Justice