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.
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.
President Obama made his guidance based on his interpretation of Title IX, which bans discrimination in schools on the basis of sex. In Trump’s letter to federally-funded public schools, there was no new guidance on how to handle the issue but simply stated that there was not “extensive legal analysis” on Obama’s interpretation of Title IX and retracted the advisement.
In a statement, the White House said that the issue should be left at the state-level for decisions. The letter comes weeks before the case of Gavin Grimm, a transgender student from Virginia who was denied access to the boys’ bathroom in his high school and had to use the bathroom in a converted janitor’s closet, would reach the Supreme Court.
As a senator, Jeff Sessions had a record of voting against the expansion of LGBTQ rights. In 2000 and 2002, Sessions voted against including sexual orientation in the definition of hate crimes. In 2006, he voted yes on a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage. DeVos, according to several sources, was privately pro-LGBTQ rights but has not publicly voiced support to avoid going against her family, who have contributed financially to several anti-gay groups.
I had actually written an article about the possibility of Trump rescinding federal protection of transgender students a few hours before the official word came. I looked at the voting records of Sessions and Pence in their political careers. I looked at the promises Trump made during the campaign, saying that he was the LGBTQ community’s best option.
I looked at the effects bathroom bans have on transgender students. According to data, LGBTQ youths are four times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide. 40 percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide, and 92 percent have attempted it before the age of 25. According to a survey, when transgender youths are denied access to places like bathrooms and housing, suicide attempts spike. Out of over 1000 youths surveyed for a particular study, a third had been denied access to bathrooms—60.5 percent of those denied access have attempted suicide.
Bathroom bills are purportedly for the safety of cisgender (that is, non-transgender) students. There are no reported instances of any transgender person assaulting a cisgender person in the bathroom. However, over 70 percent of transgender people have experienced being barred from using a bathroom, verbally assaulted or physically assaulted. Transgender students who are denied access to bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities have reported health issues such as kidney infection, dehydration and urinary tract infections. Those health issues can lead to missed classes and days of school.
Villainizing queer people is nothing new. Gay men were characterized as pedophiles, and homosexuality was only declassified as a mental illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973. Prior to 2003, same-sex sexual activity illegal in 14 U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the military.
Rescinding the protection of transgender students goes beyond name-calling or petty villainizing. It condemns them to health problems, physical and verbal assault and suicide. It condemns them to death.
There aren’t many ways I’m able to process this. I can use facts and statistics to paint a picture of why this is wrong. I can look into the voting records of Sessions and Pence and the ilk. I can point to those things and say, “Do you see? Can’t you see?” But this reaches a place deeper down in me, someplace raw and unhealed.
There are no words that encompass the illness roiling around inside me. The abject cruelty. The first time I was called “faggot.” The red heat in my cheeks as I was harassed in my high school locker room. The shoves into the lockers. The cruel, fondling hands. There are no words to describe being treated as subhuman. Because that’s what it comes down to: they don’t see queer people as human. You can’t rationalize it as any other way.
It’s mean. I guess that’s the simplest way I can break it down. The most juvenile, childish word, but the one that makes the most sense. It’s mean. It’s mean because it makes no sense; it comes from no logic, no wisdom, no statistics, no facts. Because if you look at any of those, you would realize that transgender students are amongst the most vulnerable minorities in America. At every turn, they are scorned, harassed and maligned. They are treated as subhuman. We should be offering our protection to them, not protecting against them.
It’s mean because Jeff Sessions doesn’t actually care about protecting cisgender students. He knows that there is no threat that a transgender teen poses when they’re just trying to use the bathroom. But Jeff Sessions wants to curtail the expansion of LGBTQ rights. That’s the logic I can find—in his voting records. In the way he views us. It’s mean because Trump, no matter what he said on the campaign trail, is as bad as Sessions in his ambivalence. And ambivalence is as deadly as hate because it’s still the same victim mangled in the maws of government. It’s still that teen. That teen is who asking nothing more than the barest, most threadbare human dignity.
“These bills are not about bathrooms. They’re about whether trans people have the right to exist in public space.”
-Laverne Cox on her recent CBS This Morning appearance.
DeVos, despite her family’s prominent donations to anti-gay organizations, apparently opposed the order. However, President Donald Trump sided with Sessions, who has a history of opposing the expansion of LGBTQ rights, and wanted DeVos to drop her objections.
Apparently there is pressure to move the paperwork along so as to avoid confusion with upcoming cases. The issue comes right before the case of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia boy who is transgender, will be brought to the Supreme Court. Grimm sued his school county when they refused to let him use the boys’ restroom and instead offered him a separate one converted from a janitor’s closet. The Obama White House rejected accommodation like that as unconstitutional and discriminatory.
According to insider Republicans, DeVos was uncomfortable with the idea of revoking protections for transgender students. This is in direct opposition to what Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in a White House news conference that DeVos was “100 percent” on board. And apparently privately, according to several sources, DeVos is quietly pro-gay-rights.
This directive needs the joint support of the Education and Justice Department, meaning that Sessions needed DeVos on board to move forward.
According to the website, OnTheIssues.org, Sessions has a history of voting against LGBTQ rights expansion. In 2006, he voted yes on a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, limiting the definition for marriage to between one man and one woman. In 2000 and 2002, he voted against adding sexual orientation to the definition of hate crimes. He was rated 20% by the ACLU, indicating an anti-civil rights voting record, and 0% by the HRC, indicating an anti-gay-rights stance.
On the campaign, Trump was tentatively pro-LGBTQ rights. He said that the issue of same-sex marriage was settled when it was legalized and that he would not go back on that. He famously invited Caitlyn Jenner, transgender former Olympic athlete, to Trump Tower and that she could use whichever bathroom she wanted. In April of 2016, Trump spoke against North Carolina’s bathroom ban, saying that people should use “the bathroom they feel is appropriate.” However, when the Obama administration issued guidance that all transgender students should use the bathrooms corresponding to their gender identities, Trump said that it should be left up to the states.
Vice President Pence, when he was the governor of Indiana, signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protected business owners who discriminated against LGBTQ people on the basis of religion. Pence was also critical of Obama’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” saying without it, the military would be a “backdrop for social experimentation.”
Even if Trump himself doesn’t personally hold any opposition to the expansion of LGBTQ rights, by dropping down the impetus to the states to decide what protections to offer transgender students is deeply troubling. These are children who are just trying to go to school. When transgender students are barred from using the bathrooms that correspond to their gender identities, suicide rates increase and health issues arise—dehydration, kidney infections and urinary tract infections. The health problems alone can lead to missed days of school and increased levels of stress.
That Trump himself doesn’t bear any ill will against the queer community does not translate to protection of LGBTQ rights. He totes himself as “the least anti-Semitic person you’ll ever meet” and “the least racist person you’ll ever meet” but if you’re not taking active steps towards the protections of these marginalized groups, you are in effect leaving them to be crushed under administrative oppression and discrimination.