Some research on exactly how transgender military personnel play into the larger scheme.
On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump used Twitter to announce a reversal of the Obama-era policy that allowed transgender people to serve openly in the military.
In the three tweets, Trump wrote, “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. 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.”
The decision caught officials at the Pentagon “off guard,” according to a New York Times article on the subject. “They had been studying, per the orders of Mr. Mattis [Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis] how transgender troops in the military affect other service members, but not with a view toward removing transgender people from the military, several defense officials said.” Mr. Mattis was on vacation when the president made his announcement, and it’s unclear if Mattis was aware that Trump would be making this decision.
Mattis, a retired general, had recently requested a six-month extension on the implementation of the plan to update “medical standards to accommodate transgender service members.” However, Mattis said that the extension did not presuppose a ban on transgender military personnel, according to a Washington Post article.
From the track record and history of Trump’s tendency to lie (from the size of his inauguration crowd to his belief in voter fraud), the immediate reaction when reading these tweets is not to believe that this is a decision based on hours of careful, rigorous research.
So, in approximately five minutes, I was able to come up with the numbers of how exactly transgender people serving openly affects the military. Now, the breakdown.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, it is estimated that “over 134,000 American veterans are transgender, and over 15,000 trans people are serving in military today.”
A 2016 RAND study published findings on how that might break down on a treatment level. “Analyzing private health insurance data on actual utilization rates in the civilian population, the study estimated that only 29–129 service members in the active component would seek any type of gender transition–related care in a given year. Second, applying a prevalence-based approach using estimates from self-reported data from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, the study estimated that between 30 and 140 personnel would seek hormone therapy, and 25–130 personnel would seek surgical treatment.”
And according to the study, “Military Health System costs would increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million per year if it were to extend this care [transition-related treatments] to transgender personnel. This amount represents an exceedingly small proportion of active component health care expenditures (0.038-0.134 percent of approximately $6 billion in spending in FY 2014) and overall DoD health care expenditures (0.005-0.017 percent of $49.3 billion in actual expenditures for the FY 2014 Unified Medical Program).”
To put that into perspective, Business Insider and Military Times reported that in 2014, the Pentagon spent $84 million on “erectile dysfunction medications Viagra and Cialis.”
So this debunks the first part of Trump’s reasoning for the ban. Those “tremendous medical costs” account for less than 1 percent of the overall budget.
The RAND study also looked into how transgender personnel affected both force readiness and the overall cohesiveness of a given unit. In terms of force readiness, “using the highest estimates, less than 0.1 percent of the force would seek gender transition-related treatment that would affect their ability to deploy. As a point of comparison, in the Army alone, approximately 50,000 active-component personnel were ineligible to deploy in 2015 for various legal, medical, or administration reasons—a number amounting to around 14 percent of the active component.”
As for unit cohesion (bonding within the unit, which increases operational readiness), “evidence from foreign militaries and the U.S. military has indicated no significant impact on unit cohesion or operational readiness as a result of allowing transgender and gay and lesbian personnel to serve openly or allowing women to serve in ground combat positions.”
Lastly, Trump’s tweets do not even account for what the active transgender military personnel are to do. This goes beyond the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of the Clinton administration. This is an outright ban on people. “Don’t serve, we don’t want you.”
So if there is no significant impact on the financial side, or on force readiness, or on unit cohesion, then why did Trump do it?
Simple—he wanted an easy win. In a presidency mired by day-to-day scandals, Trump has already proved his willingness to use queer people (and in particular transgender people) as scapegoats for problems that don’t exist to improve his own image.
There is no harm in transgender people serving openly in the military or any damage in providing them adequate medical services—there is data to back this up. There was data to back up the validity of transgender students using the bathroom that corresponded to their gender identity, but Trump rescinded that federal protection anyway.
Minorities are merely objects to the Trump administration. They are used to distract people away from the lack of effectiveness in this White House. But this is categorically different from the other ways that Trump has utilized for distraction. This is no Sean Spicer gaffe, or a belligerent Tweetstorm, or in-house antagonizing.
Trump is playing with people’s lives, health and safety to provide a distraction. And he’s doing it not only to a group of people who are already infinitely brave in their everyday lives, but a minority who risk their lives every day to provide safety and security to millions of Americans.
We—queer Americans, and people of color, and immigrants, and those with both invisible and visible illnesses and disabilities, and women—have never been people to this administration. We have, for them, existed entirely as chess pieces.