Ladies and gentlemen, we have yet another spurt of ignorance from the US Commander-in-Chief. And surprise, surprise, this far-reaching policy decision was brought to our attention via Twitter. Trump’s announcement today of a ban on transgender people serving in the military once again demonstrates his inability to think deeply.

The consequences of this decision are far bigger than he understands. It will, of course, please the few people who still support him – evangelical Christians. I suspect that’s what he care’s about the most, and I bet Vice-President Mike Pence is cheering him on from the sidelines.

The Announcement

Here are the tweets in question:

“After Consultation with my Generals …”

Actually, this appears to have come as a complete surprise to the Pentagon. In addition, Defense Secretary General Mattis is currently on leave.

The Pentagon is referring everyone to the White House for comment.

The Associated Press says:

The Pentagon seems to have been unaware that President Donald Trump has decided to bar transgender people from the military.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, refused to answer questions about what Trump’s tweeted announcement means for the current policy, including whether transgender people already serving in the military will be kicked out.

“Call the White House,” he said.

Does A Ban on Transgender People Save Money?

It appears from his tweets that one of the reasons for Trump’s ban is the potential medical cost of transgender people to the military. I assume this is if a transgender person chooses to have sex reassignment surgery, and it’s true this is expensive. However, there just aren’t that many transgender people, and saving the potential cost of reassignment surgery is a drop in the bucket. Currently, the US military spends around US$41 million on Viagra alone.

If the US military really wants to save money, it could just institute the recommendations of last year’s Inspector General’s report.

According to the Washington Times (and elsewhere) the Army made:

… $2.8 trillion worth of wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year.

The report says further:

According to Jack Armstrong, a former Defense Inspector General official in charge of auditing the Army General Fund, the practice of cooking the army’s books was so widely accepted that some employees of the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS), which handles Defense Department accounting, referred to the task of preparing the Army’s year-end statements as “the grand plug.” “Plug” is accounting jargon for inserting made-up numbers.

Waste at the Pentagon is nothing new, but it may have soared to new heights. Multiple financial scandals have emerged from U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, with ProPublica estimating the cost of wasteful and misguided expenditures to be $17 billion.

Apparently the Pentagon is unable to pass an audit it’s accounting practices are so bad, and this has been going on for years.

The military has much more to worry about than the medical costs of a small number of transgender people.

The Cost of a Ban on Transgender People from the Military

According to the Washington Post:

Thousands of troops currently serving in the military are transgender, and some estimates place the number as high as 11,000 in the reserves and active duty military, according to a Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Defense Department.

The military will need to find replacements for those people, which in itself is an expensive exercise. Then they will require training, equipment, and other costs to get them acting effectively. Of course, the knowledge of transgender military people will be lost forever.

When it comes to active duty personnel, the Rand Corporation estimates c. 1,320-6,630 transgender people serve i.e. 0.1% – 0.5% of active duty personnel. Those are the ones for whom the military would need to potentially pay for gender reassignment surgery. (Not all transgender people want such surgery.) They further estimate that medical costs for those people would be US$2.4 – US$8.4 million per year. That is, 0.001% of the 2016 military budget.

In addition, all money spent on the work done in the past year on integrating transgender people properly into the US  military has gone to waste.

There is a potential financial cost that is likely to be exponentially higher than these costs, big as they are. Carson further said to the Washington Post:

… just from the tweets it seems as if what he is doing is rolling back already implemented policies, which will force … several hundred openly transgender service members out of the military. This will be personal tragedy for them [and] a professional loss for the military, and it’s going to invite litigation that will distract the Department of Defense for months, if not years, to come.

And that potential litigation that will be a huge financial cost to the military. Potentially billions.

Does the Military Even Want a Ban on Transgender People?

Brad Carson is a former congressman who did work on transgender policies for the Obama administration. He said in an interview with the Washington Post:

“I said, ‘Here’s the threshold question: Do you want to separate transgender service members? Do you want to do that?’ And every single one of them said no … Now, maybe we can disagree about the fine points of accession policy or what kind of health care is provided, but that question of whether we should be separating able, competently serving service members, every single one of them said no.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis on a Ban on Transgender People in the Military

The ability of transgender people to serve fully in the military came following an announcement from former Defense Secretary Ash Carter just over a year ago. After a twelve month planning delay, it was due to begin on 1 July this year. Trump’s Defense Secretary announced a six-month delay in implementing the policy the day before (30 June 2017).  In the delay announcement he said (via Washington Post):

Since becoming the Secretary of Defense, I have emphasized that the Department of Defense must measure each policy decision against one critical standard: will the decision affect the readiness and lethality of the force? Put another way, how will the decision affect the ability of America’s military to defend the nation? It is against this standard that I provide the following guidance on the way forward in accessing transgender individuals into the military Services.

To me, this is ridiculous. How on earth could a person being transgender effect “lethality”? Are bullets less lethal when shot by a transgender person?

However, in his confirmation hearing General Mattis made clear that he had no problem with LGBT people serving in the military. His statement above is likely to be as the voice of his Commander-in-Chief.

Transgender Military Personnel in Other Countries

There are 18 countries around the world which have transgender people openly serving in their military, including New Zealand. All recruits have to meet the same standards during training, for promotion, and in every other way. Whether or not they are transgender is irrelevant.

Map of Countries with transgender military service

Note: Map is out of date. Argentina also allows transgender people to serve. (Source: Wikipedia Commons. Picture Credit: JayCoop. Click graphic to go to source.)

There are no reports of issues with having transgender people in the military in those countries, and several are known to have an excellent military. Most had women serving fully long before the US too.

Do Transgender People “Disrupt” the Military, as Trump Claims

There is no evidence that this is the case. The Washington Post report has this to say:

Following Mattis’s announcement last month, Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think tank that has helped the Pentagon research transgender people serving in the military, released a statement condemning the move.

“For the past year, transgender troops have been serving openly and have been widely praised by their Commanders,​ ​as is the case in 18 allied militaries around the world including Israel​ and​ Britain,” Belkin said. “Yet members of Congress are denigrating the value of military service by transgender troops, and Service Chiefs are pressuring Secretary Mattis to continue the transgender enlistment ban despite having no new arguments or data to back up their long-discredited assertions.

“In light of the success of transgender military service, the extensive research confirming that inclusive policy promotes readiness, and the sad history of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ loyally-serving transgender troops deserve to know whether Secretary Mattis stands by the claim he made at his confirmation hearing that LGBT troops can indeed serve in a ‘lethal’ military.

Just Another Broken Trump Promise

There are a tiny number of occasions when Donald Trump has received my praise. I believe in giving credit where it’s due. One was a couple of sentences during his speech accepting the Republican Party nomination on 21 July 2016. He said:

As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.

Here he is saying that:

Even in a meeting of the most loyal Republicans, it’s clear the majority are changing. The applause at that statement was rapturous. Seeing the result of his comment, the next thing Trump said was:

As a Republican, I’m so happy to hear you cheering what I just said.

A few weeks earlier, Trump put out this tweet:

One would think that a person who wrote this would not even contemplate a ban on transgender people serving in the military just a year later.

Surveys of Transgender Rights in the USA

A poll by the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reports that a majority of USians oppose the transgender bathroom laws that some states are introducing or trying to introduce. A report from Reuters includes the following results:

• 53% oppose laws requiring people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate;

• 39 % favour laws requiring people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate;

• 65% of Democrats oppose laws requiring people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate;

• 57% of Independents oppose laws requiring people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate;

• 59% of Republicans support laws requiring people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate;

In an interview with Reuters, Robert Jones, the chief executive of PRRI said:

This is a case where it really is Republicans kind of pulling away and being more of an outlier to the rest of the country.

The same survey also looked at other LGBT rights including support for same-sex marriage. Jones further notes that the only group in the US that still strongly opposes any form of LGBT rights are white Evangelical Protestants.

The Real Reason Behind the Ban

Donald Trump is extremely unhappy with his Attorney-General Jeff Sessions. He has put out a series of tweets and said in a recent New York Times interview:

(Partial New York Times transcript.)
Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, “Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.” It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.

For a start, it’s horrifying that a president does not realize that the attorney-general works for the US people and not the president. Also, it’s only recently that Trump has begun to be upset with Sessions’ entirely correct decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. That, in my opinion, is because Trump has begun to realize he might be in serious trouble. He thinks a “friendly” attorney-general could protect him.

Thus he wants to get rid of Sessions. Despite the tough guy persona he likes to project, Trump is actually not very good at confrontation. Therefore he’s sending out a whole lot of tweets against Sessions in an attempt to force him to resign. Here are a couple of examples:

Sessions has made it clear he won’t resign, and he has plenty of support. He is very popular with the same people who support Trump. And, he is getting on and using the Justice Department to enforce Trump policies like deporting Mexicans. Several commentators are saying that sacking Sessions might be the one thing that would make his base back off from him.

Trump Plays the God Card

So, Trump wants to get rid of Sessions, but he knows that will upset the Evangelicals – the only people who still support him. Therefore he has to do something that the Evangelicals like even more than deporting Mexicans and that’s bigotry towards LGBT people. Evangelical Christians love their anti-transgender bathroom bills – they’re trying to get another one in Texas right now. Trump is thus banning transgender people from the military to get a few Brownie points with his base in the hope he will then be able to get away with sacking Sessions.

Here’s another tweet Trump sent out today that I think supports my hypothesis:

The Instagram video Trump links to is Trump saying:

And finally we believe that family and faith and not government and bureaucracy are the foundation of our society.

As Matthew Cobb said at Why Evolution is True, “Remind me, what does the First Amendment say again?”

Trump Putin cartoon

A Moving Speech from Representative Kennedy

This is the sort of speech a president should be making.

And I think we should give the last word to a US veteran:


Update 30 July 2017

Pliny the Inbetween has come up with a cartoon on the issue:


 

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