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The U.S. military, with the backing of the U.S. government, has a long history of opposing homosexuality and other “sexual perversion” as well as enacting policies designed to discriminate, remove and even prosecute so-called “offenders.”
The military’s anti-LGBT crusade lasted for nearly a century before President Obama’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal took effect in 2011, which permitted openly gay men, lesbians and bisexuals to serve in the armed forces.
In 2016, Department of Defense regulations banning transgender people from serving in the U.S. military were repealed as well. These events were major milestones for LGBT service members.
However, President Donald Trump’s recently signed presidential memo instructing the Department of Defense to ban transgender people who want to serve in the military is a direct attack on LGBT troops. And the decision is an about-face for the government and military’s recent shift toward inclusionary practices with LGBT military personnel. So what’s the rationale behind this ban? Trump stated his reasoning in a series of tweets.
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
….Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
….victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
Trump explains that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Let’s take a closer look at these claims.
Trump’s claim that there are “tremendous medical costs” associated with transgender personnel in the military. This is simply not true.
The only added medical costs associated with transgender military personnel are potential gender reassignment surgeries. With an estimated 1,300-6,600 transgender service members actively enlisted in the military, a RAND study determined that the related healthcare costs would likely range between $2.4 million-$8.4 million per year.
With a Military/Defense budget of over $600 billion, the healthcare costs would be immaterial. And that does not even include Trump’s proposed Military/Defense budget increase of over $50 billion dollars. By comparison, the medical costs don’t seem like any burden at all.
Trump’s “disruption” claim is equally dubious. In fact, the “disruption” claim has been used by the government and military many times before when attempting to change exclusionary practices, including the integration of African-Americans, women and gay service members—none of which have caused a serious disruption in combat operations.
Additionally, a letter signed by 57 retired Generals and Flag Officers stated: “This proposed ban, if implemented, would cause significant disruptions, deprive the military of mission-critical talent, and compromise the integrity of transgender troops who would be forced to live a lie, as well as non-transgender peers who would be forced to choose between reporting their comrades or disobeying policy.”
So what’s the actual motivation behind the transgender military ban? Trump’s decision came after consulting with his Generals and military advisers, which presumably influenced his decision. The military has recently lost fights to exclude homosexuals and transgender personnel from serving, and it almost seems like this ban is a test to see if there is an opportunity to renew a century-old crusade against LGBT service members under the Trump administration.
Prior to World War I, the U.S. military did not have specific regulations addressing homosexuality. Discipline was primarily left up to the discretion of individual commanders.
The first time that homosexuality was officially addressed was when Congress passed the Articles of War of 1916, which included a new regulation that imposed a court-martial for any military service member who committed assault with intent to commit sodomy.
In 1920, Congress approved a modified Articles of War, which updated the regulations to make any act of sodomy a crime punishable by imprisonment. There was further discrimination and exclusion for potential service members that displayed “the stigmata of degeneration,” which included men with feminine characteristics such as sloping shoulders, broad hips, or an absence of facial or body hair.
In the 1940s and 1950s, discrimination against the LGBT service members intensified. Military officials advanced regulations that identified homosexuality and excluded service for those who “engaged in homosexual or other perverse sexual practices.”
A Congressional report titled “Employment of Homosexuals and Other Perverts in Government” released in 1950, commonly referred to as the Hoey Report, concluded that “There is no place in the United States Government for persons who violate the laws or the accepted standards of morality.”
In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450 as a security measure for government employment. For national security reasons, it prohibited Federal employees from being involved in criminal or immoral enterprises, which included “sexual perversion.”
Over the next 40 years, homosexuality and other “sexual perversion” was grounds for discrimination, exclusion and dismissal from the military.
This occurred despite an investigation by the U.S. Navy Board of Inquiry, known as the Crittenden Report (1957), which found no factual data to support the idea that homosexuals posed a security risk, which was a common argument used to support LGBT exclusion from military service.
A 1988 report from the Defense Personnel Security Research and Education Center titled “Nonconforming Sexual Orientation in the Military and Society” concluded:
“Studies of homosexual veterans make clear that having a same-gender or an opposite-gender orientation is unrelated to job performance in the same way as in being left- or right-handed.
In our study of suitability for military service, we have been governed by a silent assumption: that social attitudes are historically conditioned. In our own time, we have witnessed far-reaching changes in attitudes toward the physically disabled, people of color, disease prevention, birth control, cohabitation of unmarried couples, and so on.
Custom and law change with the times, sometimes with amazing rapidity. The military cannot indefinitely isolate itself from the changes occurring in the wider society, of which it is an integral part.”
In 1993, President Bill Clinton announced the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” plan, which “allowed” homosexuals in the military as long as it was left unknown. This policy was based on the basic idea that “homosexuality is personal and private…and not a bar to military service.”
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy prevented military commanders from asking about sexual preference, but it allowed the discharge of homosexuals found to be having gay sex or who made their sexual preferences public. It really wasn’t an improvement to the previous standards set in place for the military and its exclusionary practices against LGBT people.
One can look back at the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and see how little it did for LGBT personnel in the military, but what’s remarkable is how big of a deal it was at the time. It’s perhaps that notion that reflects the kind of anti-LGBT sentiment that pervaded the U.S.
In an exchange that occurred shortly before the implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” former Sen. John Warner and Sen. John Kerry discussed the issue about homosexuals in the military in a U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services:
Senator Warner: If the President’s program, as he has thus far stated it, were imposed on the military, you would have the duty, as a junior officer along with your NCO’s or petty officers under you, to sit down and talk with these young people coming in about a lifestyle.
Now, mind you, these young people may have been taught since an early age by their parents, their ministers, indeed their high school instructors that this lifestyle is wrong, and you are going to have to tell them that it is right, and that they must accept it.
Senator Kerry: No, sir.
Senator Warner: Now, this is important.
Senator Kerry: I am not going to tell them it is right.
Senator Warner: Then how do you tell them to accept their fellow service person who professes openly his gay lifestyle when you have got to have them deal with it, so they do not, frankly, fight and cause tension?
Senator Kerry: That is a very fair question. And clearly we are having trouble dealing with that as a society. Yesterday, the mayor of Boston and the police had stones thrown at them by white high school students who were objecting to the blacks being in their school.
Senator Warner: Let us narrow the answer. How do you sit down and counsel these young people to perform their military duties and indeed particularly those–
Senator Kerry: My parents taught me to live and let live. To be tolerant. I think you have to learn. I mean you can object, you cannot like. You can disagree. I would not choose to say it is right, that is right…I mean, do I choose to take one of the members of my crew who is a Hindu? And another who is a Buddhist? And a third a Christian, another a Jew, and tell them Christianity is correct? No, I do not do that. But we live together.
While anti-LGBT sentiment was deeply rooted in the U.S. military and government, it was a reflection of broader social conditions. In the U.S., a war was brewing for LGBT equality, and with all social change, there’s fierce resistance.
It does make sense, though, when you look at the arguments that John Kerry makes during the committee meeting in 1993. When discussing homosexuality in the military, and by extension LGBT equal rights, he brings up related social issues such as race and religion.
Similar to the continued progress that has been made in those areas, both from a social perspective and legal standpoint, non-discriminatory practices and acceptance for others will follow. It is an inevitability. However, social progress is slow moving.
During the President George W. Bush era, any form of progress for LGBT inclusion in the military was non-existent. President Bush essentially maintained the status quo, keeping in place the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It wasn’t until President Obama came to office that the United States saw a rapid shift in policy toward the acceptance of LGBT troops in the military (as well as in the general public).
With Donald Trump as president, the military likely saw an opportunity to claw back some of its exclusionary practices toward LGBT troops.
In many ways, this feels like an attempt to test a potential ban on transgender troops, a subset of the LGBT population, to see if they can succeed in implementing it and gauge the overall results
While it’s hard to say how this will all play out, if Trump and the military are successful in banning transgender troops from service, there very well could be a much stronger push to renew the crusade against LGBT personnel.
And not just for transgender troops. Considering that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a recent occurrence—2011—the top brass in the military may have their long-term goals set on banning gays in the military too. Only time will tell.
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