Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell 2017
The President’s decision to ban transgender individuals from joining the armed forces creates onerous challenges for those implementing the ban, and unnecessary pain for those affected by the new policy. Of equal import is the mirror the decision holds up to the most powerful man in the free world, whose deliberative approach is grounded in whim with seemingly no regard for consequence.
Historically, the President has been inconsistent on the subject of LGBQT rights. In an interview by The Advocate in 2000, Donald Trump responded unequivocally, when asked if gays should be allowed to serve in the military,
“Yes, if a gay person can be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher or take another position of responsibility, why can't they serve this country in the military?
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” has clearly failed. Gay people serve effectively in the military in a number of European countries. There is no reason why they can’t serve in the United States.”
By the 2016 campaign cycle, candidate Trump took contradictory stances on gay rights. In January of that year, on the eve of the Iowa primary, Trump told Chris Wallace that he would “strongly consider” appointing justices to overturn the decision on same-sex marriage, a position assuaging conservative Republican concerns.
In the course of his frequent comments on North Carolina’s notorious “Bathroom Bill,” a law written to prevent transgender individuals from using the bathroom of their choice in schools and other government-owned buildings, Trump pivoted frequently. In the same interview with The Washington Post, Trump said the government must “protect all people”, in one breath, while advocating for the reversal of Obama directives drafted to protect transgender people against discrimination in health-care coverage and in schools.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump courted the LGBQT community, earning the support of high profile advocates including Caitlyn Jenner and Peter Thiel, PayPal founder, and Donald Trump’s biggest Silicon Valley donor. During the 2016 Republican National Convention, Thiel pronounced his support for Trump saying, “I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican.”
Since taking office, however, the Trump administration has shown itself unambiguous on the issue of gay rights. In February, the Justice Department, in collaboration with the Department of Education, withdrew Obama-era guidance for schools on the treatment of transgender students. This move signaled that the Trump administration no longer considers gay rights protected under the 1972 civil rights act.
In March, President Trump penned an executive order nullifying an Obama—era initiative forcing federal contractors to comply with anti-discrimination laws based on gender identification and sexual orientation.
Fast-forward to Wednesday, July 26, 2017. The President tweeted his ban on transgender troops. In his tweets, the President made clear that the decision was a collaborative process.
“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….”
Not surprising, the announcement blindsided the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The next day, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, sent out this internal memo, as reported by Peter Alexander, NBC White House Correspondant.
On August 25, a month and one day after his initial tweet, President Trump codified and clarified the ban. As of January 1, 2018, transgender individuals cannot serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. The President left the question of openly transgender troops already serving to the Secretary of the Department of Defense, James Mattis, to decide.
The ban’s roots can be found in a triptych for the eradication of “transgender”, from society, created by the Family Research Council, a right-wing think tank committed to “religious liberty”. Not surprisingly, as a political favor to curry favor with the religious right, Trump’s arguments for the ban, specifically the additional medical costs as well as the disruptive affect transgender soldiers have on the armed forces, are simply not supported by any research. According to The Army Times, the DoD spends ten times as much money on erectile dysfunction than the added medical costs of transgender troops. In hard numbers, that’s an estimated $8 million per year for transgendered troops vs. $84 million that was spent on erectile dysfunction medications for active-duty troops, eligible family members and retirees last year. In terms of the overall DoD budget, the increased medical costs of supporting transgendered troops has been estimated as an increase between 0.04 to 0.13 percent to the budget.
While the President’s arguments for the ban are specious and easily disproven, what has found support is the transgender troops themselves. The outpouring has been surprisingly bipartisan with the President drawing rebukes from far-right conservatives, including Orrin Hatch and John McCain.
For his part, General Mattis has made clear that the DoD’s overarching focus is on the effectiveness of its troops. Rather than alienate his Secretary of Defense by requiring Mattis to actively take part in his political charade, Trump gave Mattis leniency to delay implementation of the directive on active soldiers until a study is completed, specifically addressing the questions of cost and effectiveness of transgender troops. Considering the fact that the Pentagon commissioned the non-partisan RAND corporation to perform virtually the identical study in 2016, and concluded the impact of transgender troops on performance and budget are negligible, it is difficult to imagine that much has changed a year later.
With no good reason to ban transgender troops, other than to please a very small constituency that is averse to change, President Trump’s twisted logic behind banning transgender troops appears to be:
Don’t ask me to defend my decision
Don’t tell me why I’m wrong.
Political Journalist - Washington DC