If you’re willing to pick up a weapon, deploy thousands of miles away and potentially put your life on the line all in service to your country and democratic principles, then frankly it’s no ones business if you are transgender.
This opinion piece is the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of UK Defence Journal.
I must admit I have before this week never been a fan of social change within our armed forces. I have held a pretty conservative view that the military is not an institution of social change and that we should leave it to be immune of such changes so that we can protect troop readiness and combat efficiency – simply, I wanted our military to be a fighting force not a mechanism for social change that we have in general society. But facts do speak for themselves and after a week of researching LGBTI servicemen and women in the military I came to a conclusion – if you are willing to serve your country in any of the armed forces, then we as a nation should support you, everything else is irrelevant.
However we wouldn’t be having this discussion if in a series of tweets that were capped off with a polite thank you, President Donald Trump announced that transgender people would be banned from service in the US Armed Forces. It’s sparked a debate about transgender people serving in the military and a surprisingly large amount of Americans (58%) have said that they should be allowed to serve. The main confusion with this ban isn’t so much with stopping transgender being serving within the military but more so with what position currently serving transgender people are put in – will they be removed from the military? Will they be dishonourably discharged? What about their service to their nation?
Republicans are split on the issue and Senator John McCain, a veteran of the US Armed Forces, has even said that this is a mistake, and given the talking points around it and what people are using to defend it, evidence would suggest that.
They will say – It improves preparedness.
Evidence suggests it won’t and in fact by potentially removing up to 15,000 transgender people from the military (which is the amount serving as per the US Defence Department records) you would be removing people who are highly trained, well trained patriots from their roles.
They will say – It saves the US Military money on services it should offer.
Evidence suggests 0.005 – 0.017% of the trillion dollar budget is spent on the healthcare associated with transgender troops and that is a lot. It works out to be about $80 million dollars which is a tenth of the amount spent on Viagra and other health services.
They will also say – that is preserves unit cohesion.
A point that I always believed as well, a point that a lot of people believe is correct; the military isn’t an institute of social change and military units can’t be worrying about this sort of stuff. But here’s the thing, it’s the opposite. Ever since the lifting of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (which covered Transgender troops) the opposite has happened, there hasn’t been a change or a decreased in unit cohesion; the units are working fine and the change was uniformly hailed for improving readiness.
Now some people who read this might think “well medically should they be able to serve?”. That’s a fair question – in Australia, the US and even the UK there are medical requirements (as well as fitness requirements and a lot of other requirements) for people that want to serve. These tend to be standard requirements that that everyone, regardless of who they are, need to meet. And if transgender people should just happen to meet these requirements and throughout their careers maintain such requirements and happen to maintain the requirements of their roles then who cares if they are transgender.
There is no reason why a person who meets the above standards, who is willing to pick up a weapon, deploy thousands of miles away and potentially put their life on the line all in service to their country and democratic principles should be prevented from serving in the armed forces or even forced out of the armed forces simply because of their gender identity. Personally I could give a rats ass if you are gay, lesbian or transgender and are serving the military in the UK, Australia or even the US, you’re doing something that not a lot of people would be willing to do. Right now only 19 countries allow transgender people to serve (inclusive of the UK and Australia) if the US fully implements this ban and that could be taking progress back a major step.
The next couple of months will be interesting with this debate and transgender veterans are gearing up for a fight on this topic – as they should be. Gender identity, sexual orientation – these aren’t standard boxes on a form that should disqualify you from service in the least bit. These shouldn’t even be considerations.
Now some people reading this won’t be too hot about the idea and think excluding transgender people from nation service is a good idea – but where do we stop from there? Do we then exclude these highly talented and motivated people from service in the police? What about in intelligence agencies or other security forces? This is beneath us as a society and we should never exclude those that would provide talent and knowledge as a resource in the times that we live in.