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‘Who is human enough?’: Trump ban on transgender soldiers sparks chaos, outrage

One transgender veteran said Trump’s decision was especially infuriating given the president’s Vietnam draft deferments.

Transgender veteran Shane Ortega, 30, says he was outraged by the suggestion that allowing transgender people to serve would impede the military. Ortega fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SHANE ORTEGA/ TORONTO STAR

Transgender veteran Shane Ortega, 30, says he was outraged by the suggestion that allowing transgender people to serve would impede the military. Ortega fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON— His grandfather served and his older brother served. He’s a natural helper and leader. So when two recruiters from the U.S. Marines came to Lucas Rixon’s English class last year to make their patriotic pitch, he was a quick sell: he decided he would become a soldier, too.

His tattoos got him rejected when he tried to sign up in the winter. He planned to try again.

Until the president declared him permanently unfit for duty.

Rixon, an 18-year-old in North Carolina, learned Wednesday that he would need to pursue some other career goal. In a three-tweet morning statement, Donald Trump announced that he would not “accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

Lucas Rixon, an 18-year-old transgender high school student from Greenville, N.C., wanted to become a soldier, like his older brother. That future is up in the air following Donald Trump's announcement that he would bar transgender individuals from the military.

Lucas Rixon

Lucas Rixon, an 18-year-old transgender high school student from Greenville, N.C., wanted to become a soldier, like his older brother. That future is up in the air following Donald Trump's announcement that he would bar transgender individuals from the military.

Trump’s abrupt decision left Pentagon officials, Congress and transgender advocates scrambling for answers. When would the policy take effect? What did the policy actually say? What would happen to transgender soldiers currently serving?

Trump’s press secretary had no further information, pledging that the details would be worked out later.

Trump announced the decision on the 69th anniversary of Harry Truman’s decision to desegregate the military, in the middle of his administration’s “American Heroes Week,” and the month after his White House declined to acknowledge Pride Month.

If the decision is indeed implemented — and there was lingering uncertainty about the outcome given that there was no formal policy ready to go — it will reverse a decision made one year ago by Barack Obama.

That decision allowed existing transgender soldiers, who number somewhere between 2,500 and 15,000, to serve openly for the first time. As of July 1 of this year, openly transgender recruits were supposed to be allowed to enlist.

Instead, Defence Secretary James Mattis gave the military another six months to study the issue. Then, with Mattis on vacation, Trump reversed the entire initiative via Twitter.

“After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” he wrote. “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.”

U.S. allies including Canada, Israel, the U.K. and Australia all welcome transgender troops. A 2016 study by RAND Corp. found that research on the subject was limited but that these countries had experienced “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.”

Shane Ortega, a transgender Marine and army veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he was “outraged, disgusted and heartbroken” by the suggestion that transgender people are impeding military success.

He said Trump, who obtained student and medical deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam, “has no authority or knowledge base to make any sort of tactical decision.”

“All you have to do is look at my military record. I’ve deployed five times, in two combat zones, I had no tactical issues. Zero,” said Ortega, 30, who joined in 2005. “I’m completely furious because: here’s a man who isn’t willing to step up himself to sacrifice his own body, and yet he wants to police the bodies of people who are willing to do that very sacrifice which he holds in supposed high regard.”

Ortega said his military peers knew he was transgender for years. He came out to his commanders in 2014, he said, then served as a staff sergeant until 2016.

He said active transgender soldiers were “panicking” Wednesday. He worried about whether troops booted from the military under Trump’s directive would receive honourable discharges.

“Who is good enough?” he said. “Who is human enough to be human in this government?”

Trump’s decision was widely seen as a strategic attempt to excite the social conservatives among his political base. One senior official in Trump’s administration told the website Axios that they were attempting to force Democratic candidates in the Rust Belt to “take complete ownership of this issue.”

But it also seemed possible that Trump had blundered into a problem. Several Republican senators came out against the move. House Republicans, Politico reported, had sought Trump’s help with their attempt to get the military to stop paying for gender reassignment surgery — but never asked him to ban transgender troops entirely.

Regardless of his motive, Trump set alight any goodwill he had managed to earn in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities with his campaign promise to “fight for” LGBT people.

He had differentiated himself from his Republican rivals by expressing support for the right of Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender Republican former Olympian, to use the bathroom of her choice at Trump Tower. And he had boasted of becoming the first Republican nominee to have an openly gay person, businessman Peter Thiel, speak at his convention.

But LGBT communities were always skeptical.

Activists noted that he mentioned LGBT people almost exclusively in the context of justifying his policies to discriminate against Muslims. He surrounded himself with social conservatives hostile to LGBT interests. And his words of support were always followed by criticism and hesitation.

In October, Trump declared Obama’s policy on transgender troops “ridiculous.” Despite his comfort with Jenner, he deferred to party activists who wanted to deny transgender people the right to use the bathroom matching their gender identity. In February, he rolled back Obama’s bathroom instructions to schools.

“I knew the entire time. He’s with the Republican Party, and that is the party that — while some of them are more moderate — stands against everything that trans people and LGBT people are,” said Destiny Clark, a transgender woman who is president of Central Alabama Pride. “That was just for TV, to try to get a little bit of publicity.”

Rixon will soon enter college to study criminal justice. If he can’t serve in the military, he said, he will try to serve in another way: joining the FBI.

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