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The Good News In Trump's Military Ban

Posted on August 3, 2017 at 10:10 PM

By Dennis Stone


The LGBTQ community reacted with unified outrage last week when President Trump announced that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. In keeping with how all recent presidents have announced major policy changes, he informed the world of the new ban through a series of tweets. After all, as he recently told a crowd, he “can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office,” with the exception of Lincoln. How could anyone argue with that?!


While totally expected, of course, the outrage was great to see, and seemed somehow more potent and genuine than much of what has seemed to have become pro forma “resistance.” There are careers at stake, thousands of real people’s lives impacted in a dramatic way. In addition to that there is the symbolic nature of the new policy. As a community we’ve had over the past few years a series of successes that has made our increasing liberation seem inevitable. And then here comes a major setback. Could that be a sign of a retrenchment to come, fueled by Republican control of the House, the Senate and the Presidency, plus a majority of state governments?


NO! It is not indicative of any retrenchment, and, in fact, buried within this apparent debacle are the signs of our continued evolution toward full equality. There is good news here!


First, I should point out that the proposed ban is just that: proposed. Trump does not have the power to unilaterally implement such a ban. In fact, in a memo to his chiefs and commanders, Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff (the highest ranking officer in the U.S. armed forces) stated that there would be no changes to current policy until “the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.” That has not happened, and Defense Secretary James Mattis had been caught off guard by Trump’s tweets, according to the New York Times. The Times described Mattis as “appalled” by how the situation was handled.


The U.S. military has historically been one of our most conservative and tradition-bound institutions. In previous times they opposed integration of blacks, women and gays into the armed forces. But an amazing thing happened in reaction to Trump’s tweeted ban proposal. In addition to the reactions of Dunford and Mattis as described above, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft implied he would defy the ban. He reached out personally to each of the thirteen known trans people in the Coast Guard, and he said this to Lt. Taylor Miller, who is openly transitioning: “I will not turn my back [on you]. We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith."


Further, a group of 56 retired generals and admirals released a letter in which they condemned the proposed ban. Among several other messages of support the letter said this: “Patriotic transgender Americans who are serving—and who want to serve—must not be dismissed, deprived of medically necessary health care, or forced to compromise their integrity or hide their identity.”


As someone who clearly remembers the resistance to the heretical idea of gay people serving in the military, this level of support is mind-boggling. Revolutionary, in fact.


The good news does not stop there. Do you remember when no serious presidential candidate had ever supported marriage equality? Way back in 2012? Until then a majority of Americans opposed this most basic of rights for gay people. And Republicans routinely played on fears of gays and gay rights to try to win elections. Meanwhile, the rights and dignity of trans people were barely on the radar. But, following Trump’s proposed ban a wide range of Republicans - from moderate to deeply conservative - expressed disagreement, often in strongly worded terms.


Perennial maverick John McCain - a deeply traditional military man - was one of the first. Sen. Orrin Hatch, up for re-election in deep red Utah, followed suit, as did Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, chairman of the powerful Appropriations subcommittee. Many other Republicans chimed in as well. Very few came out publicly in support of Trump, and the silence of those who didn’t comment at all was telling - they don’t see the restriction of trans rights to be a winning political issue.


This is remarkable. In twenty short years we’ve gone from a country where Republicans gleefully jumped on the anti-gay bandwagon to win elections to a country where they almost never talk about gay issues, and where trans people in the military is an idea that many leap to DEFEND!


This, my friend, is what is known as massive social transformation. One of the points I keep making on this site is that the LGBTQ community is not sufficiently aware of how much progress has been made, how much freedom we’ve won, how much support and acceptance surround us. Gay media seek out every little story that shows the negative. Gay organizations seek our money by warning that we’re “surrounded by hate.” It simply isn’t true.


The proposed ban on transgender people in the military feels at first hearing like a setback, a major attack on the worth and dignity of our trans brothers and sisters, a signpost of a newly dangerous world. But if you step back and ponder what’s actually going on, you see it as a botched strategic move of an out-of-touch would be politician. You see a Republican party that has moved toward acceptance of all LGBTQ people, including trans people. You see a societal revolution that ultimately can’t be turned back.


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