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Op-Ed: Don't ask, don't tell 2.0, trans edition

Mattie Buckley, Co-Tempo Editor

Trump’s transgender military ban is based on false claims that continue to be widely refuted by experts and is forcing trans troops back into the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era in which they can serve in silence or be disqualified from military service.


Four injunctions initially stopped the ban from taking effect, but they have since been lifted. As of April 12, potential recruits diagnosed with gender dysphoria who require transition-related medical care are not allowed to enlist, meaning trans troops cannot transition. Gender dysphoria is the distress a person experiences as a result of the conflict between their gender assigned at birth and their gender expression or identity.


Trans troops are still eligible for service as long as they agree to serve as their gender assigned at birth and can maintain fitness under general standards without medical support. The ban basically forces trans troops to perpetuate their gender dysphoria by prolonging this internalized conflict.


Another exception introduced allows trans troops with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria prior to the effective date to continue to receive medically necessary care and transition; however, this exception only applies to 937 of the over 14,700 trans troops currently enlisted. This creates an inconsistency in which some trans troops are allowed to transition alongside others who are ineligible, and the Department of Defense issued a threat against serving trans troops if this inconsistency is used to invalidate the ban.


There are four main justifications used by the DoD to implement this ban: trans persons are less mentally fit; treatment for gender dysphoria is not reliable, safe and/or effective; treatment for gender dysphoria renders trans troops physically unfit; and accommodating gender transition could undermine preservation of differences between the sexes in the military.


“The American Psychological Association is alarmed by the administration’s misuse of psychological science to stigmatize transgender Americans and justify limiting their ability to serve in uniform and access medically necessary health care," wrote Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD in the APA Statement Regarding Transgender Individuals Serving in Military. 

“Substantial psychological research shows that gender dysphoria is a treatable condition, and does not, by itself, limit the ability of individuals to function well and excel in their work, including in military service. The science is clear that individuals who are adequately treated for gender dysphoria should not be considered mentally unstable. Additionally, the incidence of gender dysphoria is extremely low."


“The AMA is troubled that the DoD characterizes the need to undergo gender transition as a ‘deficiency,’” wrote American Medical Association President Barbara L. McAneny, M.D. in the AMA Statement on Pentagon’s Ban on Transgender in Military. “The only thing deficient is any medical science behind this decision. The AMA has said repeatedly that there is no medically valid reason — including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria — to exclude transgender individuals from military service. Transgender service members should, as is the case with all personnel, receive the medical care they need. There is a global medical consensus about the efficacy of transgender health care, including treatment for gender dysphoria.”


In the statement issued by the APA, Evans further emphasized that there is no scientific evidence showing trans troops have adverse effects on unit cohesion or readiness. In fact, research shows that stigma and discrimination weaken morale and readiness by creating increased stress and damaging trans troops’ health and well-being.


“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,” Trump tweeted to announce his intentions for the ban in July 2017.


However, military health system costs would only increase between $2.4 million and $8.4 million per year if it were to cover the cost of transitioning for trans troops according to a 2016 study by the RAND Corporation. The study added this “represents an exceedingly small proportion of active component health expenditures.” Less than 0.001 percent of the 2019 military budget alone. The military spends $84 million annually on erectile dysfunction treatment and $437 million on military bands.


“[The cost] is dwarfed by the treatment cost of virtually any ache and pain you can think of,” said former Pentagon official Brad Carson, who served as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness until 2016.


On top of the overwhelming evidence supporting trans troops, 70 percent of Americans believe transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military. The ban is a blatant act of discrimination against trans troops. Without the ability to fully express their identities, trans troops are being forced back into “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which only brings about added fear and paranoia to an already stressful situation.