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Transmissions: Transition the battlefield

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

Illustration: Christine Smith
Illustration: Christine Smith  

No matter how I put this, it feels like an understatement: we are living in increasingly frightening and dangerous times. This is especially true for those of us who are transgender people.

Sitting in a subcommittee right now in the House of Representatives is HR 2796, aka the Civil Rights Uniformity Act of 2017. I've written of this before. It would do nothing less than void protections for transgender people under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, and "any federal civil rights law, and of any related ruling, regulation, guidance, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States."

Not apparently interested in waiting for HR 2796 to pass or fail, the Department of Justice, under beleaguered Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has filed a legal brief in Zarda v. Altitude Express, claiming that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn't cover sexual orientation. While the brief doesn't mention gender orientation specifically, we can guess where Sessions' DOJ might side. Oddly enough, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed its own brief, disagreeing with the DOJ.

Meanwhile, a move by Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri) to ban health care for transgender military personnel and their families failed to pass in the House, in spite of a pair of odd speeches in support by Congressmen Steve King (R-Iowa) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). King conflated transgender troops to slaves forcibly conscripted and castrated in the Ottoman empire, and suggested that trans folks would join to somehow "game the system" for surgical care, while Gohmert tried to draw a comparison between money spent for transgender care and funds used to defeat "radical Islam," as if one would take away from the other.

While the Hartzler amendment failed, it apparently was not unnoticed President Donald Trump, who took to Twitter for one of his now infamous tweetstorm cum policy statements.

"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," wrote Trump. "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender [sic] in the military would entail."

This is all nonsense.

The military responded with surprise, having apparently not been consulted on this policy. What's more, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, has stood in opposition, stating in a memo that there are "no modifications to the current policy until the President's direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidelines."

To date, no such implementation guidelines have arrived.

Trump seems somehow unaware that there are already transgender troops in our military. While reported numbers have varied from as little as 250 to as many as 50,000, a study by the Rand Corporation in June 2016 estimated somewhere between 1,320 to 6,630 active duty trans service members out of a total pool of 1.3 million service members. What's more, this same study noted that trans-related health care for these troops would cost somewhere between $2.4 and $8.4 million per year. This is a drop in the bucket compared to current military spending.

It is also a fifth of spending that the military currently doles out for erectile dysfunction medications to all troops, trans or otherwise.

So we have a scattershot policy announcement, dictated via social media without adequate consultation and not tethered in fact. Transgender troops are in no way bankrupting our armed forces, nor is there any evidence of them disrupting the service.

Now, plenty of people have said that Trump's tweets were nothing more than a distraction, something to steal the spotlight from news of the health care bill and its failure, or the increasingly dysfunctional administration, or the continuing Russia probe. Maybe there is some truth to that, but I find myself considering that a distraction ceases to be one when it is harming people.

Trump's insistence on assailing transgender soldiers, while his Department of Justice and others attack transgender rights and protections at the national level, is causing real harm. It is seeking to establish second- or even third-class status for transgender people in America, barring us from rights and protections throughout our federal government.

These are policies that could prevent our employment, our ability to find and retain housing, to gain adequate health care and an education, in addition to halting those willing to kill people in the name of our country. These send a message that transgender people are simply unwelcome, and no longer a part of American society.

Of course, that also simply lumps us in with every other "undesirable" group that has already been singled out: immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and others are certainly no strangers to the machinations of this administration.

There is a bright spot in all this, however. While Trump and his administration – and, of course, those who seem hell-bent on supporting him no matter what – are willing to demonize trans people, a growing coalition of others isn't.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll taken July 26-28 found that 58 percent felt that transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military, compared to only 27 percent who said no. Even among Republicans polled, only 49 percent weren't willing to support transgender people in the armed forces. (The poll surveyed 1,249 adults; the margin of error was plus/minus 3 points.)

These are dark times, and I fear they will grow grimmer, but we have one thing on our side: public support for transgender people is growing as the dinosaurs fade. In that, we can find hope.


Gwen Smith has never wished to serve in the military. You'll find her at




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