Your say / Bristol

Trans in the military – a political football

By cheryl morgan, Wednesday Jul 26, 2017

It seems that never a day goes by now without some strange and whacky pronouncement from the man who lost the popular vote to Hilary Clinton by almost three million, and yet somehow ended up in the White House.

Today’s Trump outrage revolves around his announcement that he is banning transgender people from serving in the US military “in any capacity”.

The first thing to note about this is that it does not seem to have had any political scrutiny.

Trump is in the habit of issuing edicts via Twitter and assuming that Congress and the courts will back him.

However, given the willingness of the Republicans to keep Trump around as long as they can vote themselves massive tax breaks and deprive millions of Americans of health care, it seems likely he will get his wish.

A more important question is what effect it will have. Trans people were banned from serving openly until President Obama changed the rules last year.

However, large numbers were already serving in secret. The exact numbers are uncertain, but an independent survey by RAND put the number at between 1,320 and 6,630.

Many of those people will doubtless have come out to their commanders, and will have to be discharged under the new Trump policy.

Trump also complains of the expense and disruption that trans soldiers will cause. The RAND survey had this to say:

“The limited research on the effects of foreign military policies indicates little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness. Commanders noted that the policies had benefits for all service members by creating a more inclusive and diverse force.”

Commanders tended to base their views on the fairly recent – and equally controversial at the time – decisions to allow LGB people to serve, and to open up front line roles to women. If those changes caused no problems, why should trans people be an issue?

RAND estimated the cost of allowing trans people to serve openly to be $2.4m and $8.4m annually, representing a 0.04 to to 0.13 per cent increase in active-component health care expenditures.

That’s a tiny fraction of the military’s health budget. It doesn’t come close to touching their total budget. For comparison, a single F35A fighter aircraft costs in the region of $100m.

The British military has had trans people serving openly since 2000 without any obvious ill effects. A local example is Somerset girl, Ayla Holdom, who flew helicopters for the RAF for 13 years, including training alongside Prince William.

Or there’s Hannah Winterbourne from South Wales who drives Challenger 2 tanks, or Chloe Allen of the Scots Guards who has been part of a close-combat infantry unit.

Possibly the most inspiring story from the British military is that of Caroline Paige. Prior to transition she flew fighter jets in the RAF, but later she moved on to helicopters and has been responsible for ferrying troops into and out of war zones, under fire, in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Her book, True Coloursis a fascinating story of how our armed forces have changed from being hostile to welcoming trans people in their ranks.

Logically therefore, there is no reason for Trump to issue this ban.

The costs of trans people serving are vanishingly small, and their effect on military efficiency is quite possibly positive.

At the very least he’s losing the service of several thousand willing recruits. So why is he doing it?

This tweet from a US political reporter sheds some light on the subject:

According the Swan’s source, what Trump and his team are trying to do is discredit the Democrats by forcing them to defend trans people.

He’s operating on the assumption that there are sufficient swing voters whose dislike of trans people will overcome their disappointment at losing their health care.

The rights and wrongs of trans people in the military are irrelevant to him, as long as he can find enough voters who can be persuaded that persecuting them is the most important thing on the political agenda.

There is, of course, a simple solution to this. If people could just stop hating trans folks then we could all get back to living normal lives and not get used as a political football.

Given the ridiculous furore about the UK government’s plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act, the same could be said of our politics too.

Cheryl Morgan is a trans woman who co-hosts the Women’s Outlook show on Ujima


Read more: Bristol trans woman: ‘I was stripped and humiliated at the hands of the police’

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