“You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
These were the words that Khizr Khan, the father of a slain Iraq War soldier, spoke publicly to then-candidate Donald Trump, contrasting his son’s national service with Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration to the United States in the name of “national security.”
The thousands of transgender people currently serving in the United States military could say the same. Trump’s decision this week to bar transgender individuals from serving in the military “in any capacity” cites “the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail” but ignores the facts.
First, gender variant people are already serving and have done so since at least the American Revolution. For example, Robert Shirtliff served for almost two years in the Continental Army but was wounded in 1783 — when medics discovered female breasts under the soldier’s masculine clothing. Born Deborah Sampson, the soldier was honorably discharged at West Point and eventually awarded a military pension.
Another fact President Trump tramples over: Health care for transgender people is not costing the military “tremendous” amounts. In fact, according to Business Insider, the Pentagon spends five times as much on Viagra as it does providing health care to transgender troops.
And readiness? The Pentagon investigation into the impact of trans people on military readiness, which Trump himself commissioned, is not due until December. His recent announcement — via tweet, not news conference — seems to have caught the military itself off guard. And the Rand Corporation, a far-from-liberal research organization, recently found that trans service members posed no threat to military readiness.
But of course, President Trump has never worried about the facts. His success and support have always relied on the crowd-pleasing tactics of the reality TV star and the demagogue: fear and hate. In contemptuously ignoring the service of transgender members of the military, he seeks to appeal to the fears of so many Americans who are experiencing the loss of industrial jobs, the opioid epidemic and a tidal wave of gun violence, all of which grow instead of shrink every year.
These losses are real, and we have a right to look to our elected officials to address them. Trump’s strategy is to blame the insecurity of so many American lives instead on some kind of “other” who is taking what is yours: those Muslims, those “transgender.” Stirring up hatred against the other takes responsibility for these complex problems off the shoulders of our leaders. Instead, we start to hate our neighbors, a much more immediate and concrete target.
The cost of making transgender people and their families into the enemy is very real. The Southern Poverty Law Center called 2016 “the deadliest year on record for transgender people,” and 2017 is already on track to surpass that gruesome milestone. The majority of these victims of fatal violence are transgender women of color, which points to the brutal intersections of racism, sexism and transphobia.
The targeting of transgender people also has devastating consequences for mental health. A 2015 survey by the National Coalition for Transgender Equality found that 40 percent of trans-identified respondents had attempted suicide during their lifetime — nearly nine times the attempted suicide rate in the U.S. population.
A 2016 study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that suicidal thoughts and attempts among transgender youths were significantly related to “perceived burdensomeness and thwarted belongingness.” The authors’ language eerily foreshadows the president’s tweet about the “burden” of integrating transgender people in the military.
Trump’s ban is not about keeping the American people safe. Investing in infrastructure and meaningful job creation, increasing access to health care, and stemming the tidal wave of gun violence in this country would have an immediate and palpable impact on our security. Doing so is complicated, and it’s also the president’s job. That’s the kind of national security we’d like to see at the forefront of the president’s attention.
Lisa L. Moore is the Archibald A. Hill Professor of English and a professor of women’s and gender studies at The University of Texas at Austin. Paige Schilt is a learning specialist in the Sanger Learning Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the author of the memoir “Queer Rock Love.”
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