by Priya Phillips '20
On July 26th of 2017, President Trump announced through Twitter that the United States Government would no longer allow transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military. People who openly identify as transgender had been barred from service in the U.S. military until the Obama administration policy of 2016 which allowed the admission of transgender service members, protected those service members--active and future--from being discharged because of their identity, and provided access to free, gender-affirming health care. Amid great legal controversy, including several lawsuits waged against the Trump administration, and public backlash, the Department of Defense began to implement a new policy surrounding transgender military service in April of 2019.
While the DOD has maintained that the new policy is not a ban, it does greatly limit the avenues by which transgender individuals can serve. Persons with a history of “gender dysphoria,” unless they have lived in their birth gender for three years prior, are barred from applying. Individuals with any history of medical treatment related to gender-transitioning are permanently disqualified from applying. The policy, DTM-19-004, allows for current service members who were diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” prior to April 12th, 2019 to serve and transition genders under the prior rules; however, those without grandfathered protection are vulnerable to discharge if their identities appear to “interfere with assignment to or performance of duty.”
The issue surrounding the status of transgender service members has become increasingly complicated in recent years. While those who oppose the new policy often argue that said limitations encroach upon the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, those who support the policy often cite their concern being for the safety of U.S. troops. Some see the governmental costs which come with the military paying for soldiers’ gender-affirming surgeries to be a strenuous burden on military funds, a burden which hinders troops from performing at their greatest capacity. Some supporters of the ban have also cited that ‘emotional instability’ could make someone with “gender dysphoria” unfit for service and thus a liability to not only themselves but to other service members.
However, the reasons which the Trump administration and others cite for supporting this new policy are not significant enough to excuse the ways in which the policy weakens the United States. In reality, the administration’s stance on the issue goes against the best interests of the United States military and perpetuates ideals which are not supported by our nation; the new policy is counterintuitive to the American identity and it threatens the moral foundations which our nation has been built upon.
First and foremost, barring transgender service members from actively participating in military service encroaches upon the guarantee to liberty and freedom which every American is promised. The United States is supposed to be a champion of promoting freedom, however, this service ban blatantly invalidates every American’s guarantee to libertya concept which is deeply ingrained in the identity of our nation. Furthermore, the government’s role in this issue is a gross intrusion on the ability of American citizens to be free beings- an ability which our service members fight to protect every day. The actions of the Trump administration surrounding this new policy have set a dangerous precedent for the expansion of governmental powers. By limiting transgender Americans’ freedom of choice and their ability to serve in the military the government is expanding their authority in a way which goes against the political and ideological norms of the United States. In totality, this service policy promotes the government-driven oppression of American citizens and their abilities to serve and defend our nation- a job which many Americans are not brave enough to take on.
Moreover, the principles of this policy situate themselves upon a growing under appreciation among Americans for the sacrifices and services of our troops. When this policy tells transgender service members that the value of their commitment to protecting American ideals and institutions is outweighed by the ‘costs’ which they place on the military it is an offense to American in the military. This policy communicates to all service men and women that their sacrifice is of little value to the American people. When the American government creates policies which undermine our troops and the ideals which they protect we, as a nation, destroy an important part of our identity. This ban damages our loyalty to not only the safety of our nation, but our loyalty to maintaining our nation’s societal and moral foundations. The idea that a monetary value can be placed on the work of our military to promote freedom and democracy signifies that important American ideals are eroding away--a reality which is painful to imagine.