I’m an Army Brat and proud of it. My dad escaped the poverty of a sharecropper’s life in Mississippi at the age of 16, fudged on his age and joined the military. It meant a better life for him and being able to provide for his wife and six children. It was the door to opportunity back in 1951. It still is for many young people.
Including transgender young people. It’s why this latest attack from the president hits me so hard. In one tweet, he closed off an important door of opportunity to young people wishing to serve their country and improve their lives.
I’ve seen the plight of transgender students up close, and I’ve seen the arc of progress. These young people had reason to fear for their lives, quite literally. They were the targets of violence and ridicule at that most vulnerable time of adolescence.
But over the years, I could see a change in human kind. I could see so many people willing to suspend their preconceived notions of what they had heard or believed about transgender people and allow themselves to be open to listening to their stories and their hopes; to see the range of human diversity in all its forms and accept and honor that diversity.
I’ve seen transgender students begin to feel safer. Begin to feel that their hopes and dreams might be more than fantasies. Begin to feel that the world was open to them as well.
Then, out of the blue, powerful state politicians inexplicably trained their sights on them. It’s already done untold harm to transgender who are subjected to the hurtful debate about which bathroom they can legally use. And now, the harm comes from the most powerful politician of them all: The president. In a tweet. “…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…”
And his reason? “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
And ironically, he ends: “Thank you”
We see it as scapegoating and isolating a community of human beings for political purposes.
Thank you? For what? The president delivered a gut punch to more than the transgender community. All of us who have seen the moral arc of the universe bend towards justice and respect for the LGBTQ community see this as an attack. We see it as scapegoating and isolating a community of human beings for political purposes.
This decree by tweet is unnerving, irresponsible and cruel. Under President Obama, the military has had an open and accepting policy towards LGBTQ military personnel. Thousands of transgender soldiers now serve their country openly and proudly.
In 2016 the RAND Corporation released a report commissioned by the Pentagon finding that allowing openly transgender servicemen and servicewomen to serve in the military would have, and I quote, “minimal impact on readiness and health care costs.”
That report finds the exact opposite of the current president’s irrational rationale. There is no study that justifies this discrimination. It is pure politics.
And its impact is devastating to currently serving transgender soldiers. The senseless tweet gave no indication whether these patriotic men and women will be challenged for being honest and open about their gender identity. Whether they will be dishonorably discharged regardless of honorable service. Whether they will lose the benefits they earned for their service. Chaos reigns today within a military that was, itself, caught off-guard by this decree. The Pentagon has been given no guidance and has no answers.
But it’s no less devastating to the next generation of soldiers. Imagine the ROTC programs in public schools and universities. With this strict ban on transgender people serving, will school programs accept all students? If they do accept transgender students into ROTC programs because of a school’s policy of non-discrimination, will instructors have to make it clear to transgender students that while they can join ROTC, they’ve been pre-determined to be unworthy to serve their country?
We already know how this will impact our trans kids. But this presidential order was meant to have an even greater impact. This new ban mirrors the old ban on soldiers who were gay and lesbian. For the LGBTQ community, it sends the clear message: You are not safe. We’re back to the days of discrimination. You are not welcome. You are not acceptable. You are not fit to serve.
We have seen the toll in the high dropout rates and high suicide rates of young people who feel there is no place for them. But we also have seen what happens when they understand that they are not alone. We know the hope that springs within their hearts when students see that their parents and educators and faith leaders and community activists and friends wrap their arms around them and stand with them. When we say “all students,” we mean All Students. We serve them all. We love them all.
And we will fight for them all against anything that limits their opportunities, anything that limits their humanity. A good start is to take the Pledge to Support LGBTQ Equality at http://educationvotes.nea.org/lgbtqequality/. We will stand and fight against this outrageous act of discrimination and injustice.
Lily Eskelsen García is the President of the National Education Association.