I initially viewed President Donald Trump’s July tweet suggesting we ban transgender military personnel as unimaginably idiotic. I figured there was no way it would be executed. In the face of numerous global threats, why would we kneecap our military by prohibiting willing and able people from serving in our volunteer armed forces?
Fast forward to last week, when Trump ordered a ban on nearly all transgender people from serving. The same reason I thought his initial tweet was stupid is the reason I’m now livid. We’re discriminating against people who want to sacrifice for their country. What’s worse, we’re doing it for no measurable reason. It’s transphobia masked as policy and it’s disgraceful as much as it’s unconstitutional.
Fortunately, we have a long way to go before this ban is enacted. Four federal courts ruled that the ban could not be implemented at this time, largely over questions of whether it is unconstitutional. So far, the White House hasn’t made a compelling case as to why all the current and former military officials who say transgender military personnel can comfortably serve are wrong.
At its core, our military is comprised of service members who are proud of their country and are willing to go to great lengths to protect American virtues of liberty and justice. I was one of them. Like so many others, my military career was anchored by a calling to give back to a country that had given me so much. Having immigrated here when I was 3, I was grateful for the opportunities America provided and felt a duty to defend the ideals that make us the strongest nation in the world. I can’t imagine turning away anyone who shares that vision and has the drive and ability to serve.
Military members understand that the focus is on completing the mission. We don’t care if you are tall or short; have dark skin or pale skin or freckles; or are gay, straight, or transgender. We just need to know that if our lives were at risk, we can count on you. There is zero evidence that a transgender sniper is any less accurate or a transgender missile launch officer is any less reliable than someone who is not transgender.
Typically, military personnel decisions are made with care and considerable research. In deciding whether to permit service to openly transgender individuals, the Obama administration commissioned a RAND Corporation study that found transgender military personnel would “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs.” Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration has failed to point to any tangible justification for its ban. The onus is on Trump and his team to prove that the ban isn’t based on bigotry. I have a hard time imagining they will.
Beyond the ban’s clear and grave constitutional questions, excluding an entire cohort of people who are otherwise qualified and able to serve is unpatriotic. Even without an officially enacted ban, currently serving transgender personnel now have to contend with the idea that their own commander-in-chief doesn’t recognize their fitness to serve. Because of this ban, the military is losing skilled service members—making our military less stable and our country less secure.
This ban demonstrates total contempt for transgender service members’ bravery and dedication to our country. It closes the door for those who one day aspire to help our country, and it restricts our military. The ban is not just unconstitutional, it is plain stupid.
Ted Lieu is the U.S. representative for California’s 33rd district.