Trump’s Trans Military Ban

8 mins read

We’ve all been reeling in horror from the story in The Atlantic alleging that President Donald Trump has made several brutal, disparaging statements about military personnel, including those who have died in service. Those stories have been independently verified by Fox, AP and The Washington Post, and they affirm that Trump does not care about military personnel, just as he does not care about anyone beyond whatever transactional benefit he gains. But don’t forget that Trump’s scorn for the military includes his assault on trans service members’ rights. 

I have family members who served honorably in the military and LGBTQ+ friends and acquaintances who also served proudly and honorably. It was a relief when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became a thing of the past and proved that LGBTQ+ persons in the military were not “harmful” or a “disruption.” LGBTQ+ service members put their lives on the line for the United States to earn pay, college tuition and experience. They’ve served even when told they should not be open about who they are.

Back in 2011, as one of many pro-equality measures, the Obama administration changed policy to allow for open and inclusive military service for gay, lesbian and bisexual persons. Trans persons had been banned from openly serving since the 1960s; however, in 2016, this policy was reversed. At the time, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said, “We don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman or Marine who can best accomplish the mission. We have to have access to 100% of America’s population.” A Rand Corp. study found that there would be “minimal readiness impacts” from trans persons serving openly in the military. This was a huge win for LGTBQ+ Americans in the Obama era, along with the US v. Windsor case striking down the terrible Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

But Trump has continually attempted to block LGBTQ+ progress, particularly for trans persons. In July 2017, Trump decreed in a series of tweets that trans persons would no longer be allowed to serve: “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.” What a stark contrast to Secretary Carter’s statement on no more barriers to trans persons’ service. What a slap in the face to the 20% of trans persons who have bravely served in the military.

Trump has laughingly claimed he’s pro-LGBTQ+. However, his administration’s actions prove otherwise: he erased protections for trans prisoners, rolled back protections for trans schoolchildren and rolled back health care anti-discrimination measures for LGBTQ+ persons. When the Supreme Court held in Bostock v. Clayton County that an employer who fires an employee solely for being LGBTQ+ was breaking civil rights law, “pro-gay” Trump could only say, “I’ve read the decision, and some people were surprised. But they’ve ruled and we live with their decision.” Remember that he chose Mike Pence as his vice president, a man who as Indiana’s governor tried to allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ+ persons. 

In a recent interview, Mary Trump said of Trump, who is her uncle,“I think gay people make him uncomfortable with male homosexuality.… And trans people make him uncomfortable because he’s uncomfortable with anyone that’s different. And that includes differently-abled, different color of skin, and different beliefs.” She pointed out, “He’s not [an] ally of the gay community, or really any community for that matter. Donald doesn’t have any concern or beliefs beyond his own self-interest.” Trump’s disrespect for the military is clear: disrespect for those who’ve served, those who were POWs and those who died in action. He is not an ally to the LGBTQ+ or to the military.

Compare Trump to Joe Biden, whose late son Beau Biden served in the US Army and who declared trans rights to be an important civil rights issue. Biden is an ally to both the military and the LGBTQ+ community. Biden spoke out in favor of marriage equality even before President Obama. While Biden had voted against LGBTQ+ rights in the past, by the time he served as vice president, he had long since changed his position and become one of the community’s strongest allies. In 2012, Biden said trans rights were “the civil rights issue of our time.” I am a nonbinary person who also identifies as trans, and I was proud of Joe. His words didn’t just support LGBTQ+ rights; his support, along with that of President Obama, made LGBTQ+ rights mainstream. 

This November, every vote counts. We need to ensure for the sake of the Electoral College that the swing states have enough votes to make a difference. We need to set a mandate through a blue wave in the Oval Office, the Senate and the House to protect our military and our LGBTQ+ community. If you are on the fence (or know someone who is) and care about military personnel and/or trans persons, please let this be a deciding factor to vote, and vote blue down the ticket. Joe Biden respects our military and respects LGBTQ+ people. He and Kamala Harris will not punish schoolchildren for being trans nor will they punish military persons for being trans. 

Now is the time to look out for other people. Voting blue helps. But voting blue means voting from the presidency on down. One vote can make a difference, so don’t think your vote and the vote of your neighbors, friends and family do not count. They do, and as an LGBTQ+ person, I thank you for your supportive act in voting for Biden/Harris and every blue candidate this election.

Photo: By Jere Keys from New York City, USA – Protest of Donald Trump’s ban on transgender military service, CC BY 2.0,

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Alex Fiano (them/their/they) is a writer and humanities college faculty living in New York City. Alex has worked as an attorney in employment discrimination and helping incarcerated persons, in communications for a gender equity nonprofit, and as a freelance writer and editor. Alex has volunteered to help LGBTQ+ youth and on progressive political campaigns. Alex currently studies art and art history, has a thriller/LGBTQ+ series (Gabriel's World, and is developing a second gothic mystery thriller series (Gravfika) with nonbinary and trans protagonists.

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