On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman announced his executive order to desegregate the armed forces. He justified this decision in plain, but powerful, language: the United States military should take steps to uphold the values of “equality of treatment and opportunity for all.”
Exactly sixty-nine years later, on July 26, 2017, President Donald Trump announced—on Twitter—his intention to completely ban transgender people from serving in the military in any capacity.
On an anniversary of the day when Truman declared that service is based solely on ability and merit, President Trump made a decision that bans thousands of otherwise willing and able transgender Americans from serving their country, purely based on their identity.
Allowing for transgender people to serve openly in the army is low-cost, and does not negatively affect military readiness.
Beyond being an affront to the values of decency and equity that Truman cited in his decision sixty-nine years ago, Trump’s rationale for this ban is entirely without merit. Allowing for transgender people to serve openly in the army is low-cost, and does not negatively affect military readiness.
Allowing Transgender Individuals to Serve Does Not Incur Exorbitant Costs
The first inaccuracy upon which Trump based his decision to ban transgender people from service is the claim that providing these service members with the health care associated with being transgender would “burden” the military with “tremendous medical costs.”
In reality, the costs of providing transgender soldiers with medical care are negligibly small in the context of the larger U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) budget. A DoD-sponsored study by the RAND Corporation found that the projected cost of allowing transgender personnel to openly serve is between $2.4 million and $8.4 million—in other words, only 0.001 percent of the total projected 2018 budget of the DoD.
In reality, the costs of providing transgender soldiers with medical care are negligibly small in the context of the larger U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) budget.
To put this cost in perspective to other military expenditures, even the highest estimate of an $8.4 million dollar expenditure represents roughly one-tenth of the yearly cost of the Viagra and other erectile dysfunction medication the military purchases ($84 million), and less than 9 percent of the price of a single Type-A F-35 fighter jet ($94.6 million).
Transgender Individuals Do Not Reduce Military Readiness
The second inaccuracy upon which Trump based this decision is the idea that allowing transgender individuals to openly serve in the military would reduce military readiness, or as he phrased it, the ability to achieve a “decisive and overwhelming victory.” However, multiple sources—from former generals to military policy analysts—confirm that being transgender does not inherently limit someone’s ability to serve in the military.
The same DoD-sponsored analysis by RAND concluded that allowing transgender individuals to serve openly would not negatively affect military readiness. This conclusion was supported by analyses of two different sources: an analysis of other foreign militaries who have allowed transgender people to serve openly and have seen no reduction in readiness, and an analysis of past decisions from the U.S. military to allow women and homosexual individuals to serve—neither of which led to a reduction in military readiness.
Another study, from a former surgeon general and a retired general, found that there is “no compelling medical rationale for banning transgender military service,” and in fact, lifting such bans would ensure that commanders are better able to respond to the needs of their personnel . Furthermore, this study also rebuked the claim that the regular medications required for hormone therapy impedes transgender troops’ ability to succeed in combat, since many non-transgender military personnel rely on daily, consistent use of prescription medication, even while they are deployed in combat zones.
The Hague Center for Strategic Studies found that transgender inclusion policies in foreign militaries did not have negative impacts on their military readiness. However, it also found that the open and inclusive military environment generated by such policies may actually improve troop morale and bolster synergy within the ranks.
A group of retired generals who voiced their opposition to a ban on transgender enlistment tersely summarized the policy as an unwelcome “return to the days of forcing capable applicants to lie in order to serve their country.” The advice of both former generals and expert analysts is clear: the military ought to allow transgender personnel to serve their country openly, instead of ignoring their needs to the detriment of troop morale.
Making America Less Safe
Beyond being factually unfounded, this ban could very well hinder national safety. The ban denies the over 15,000 estimated current active-duty transgender troops (and the countless more who now cannot enlist) from serving in the military, despite today’s climate of incredible international unrest. This decision is, essentially, denying the military thousands of willing and physically able troops, all for the sake of pure ideological grandstanding and nothing more.
In fact, between Trump’s tweets and his continued advocacy for health care bills that include large cuts to Medicare—a program that covers over 1.75 million combat veterans—this administration has spearheaded two policy actions that are simultaneously offensive and tangibly harmful to service members. These are not the actions of an administration that truly wants to put America—all of America—First.