By Ian W. Holloway & Jody L. Herman
In just three tweets, President Trump attacked thousands of transgender service members. In 417 characters, he jeopardized the livelihoods of committed soldiers serving our country at home and abroad.
It is difficult to know how many service members may be impacted by a ban on transgender military service. Analyses from the UCLA Williams Institute estimate that there are over 15,000 Active-Duty Service Members, National Guard Members, and Reservists and 134,000 Military Veterans or Retirees.
While the numbers may seem small, the impact of President Trump’s tweets could be quite large in their toll on service members, their families, and the progress that has been made toward inclusion. In 2015, UCLA and USC began the Military Acceptance Project, a $1.8 million study funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and focused on understanding acceptance and integration of LGBT people in the military.
Preliminary analyses of the data highlight transgender service members’ intense commitment to their country and the United States military. Direct interviews with active duty and retired transgender service members illustrate their relief after the Obama administration’s decision to allow them to serve openly in 2015.
As one transgender Army sergeant described, “I’m glad that the changes are being made and this is being allowed. I’m very happy to know that if somebody else is going through this process, they’re going to be able to transition because it is actually being supported now through commanders and through leadership.”
Service members also spoke to the importance of inclusion on the culture of the military as a whole: “Recently when Ash Carter announced that we would be integrated into the military on June 30th I think and a lot of people just because of seeing his intent, they've changed their actions. Like…on the medical side they've been more helpful as far as getting me what I need, sending me to who I need to be sent to.”
President Trump’s tweet decree, to “not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military” threatens all of this immense progress.
Many active duty transgender service members who hid their transgender identity previously have “come out” under the assumption of safety from reprisal. These soldiers now stand to lose their jobs and military benefits if President Trump’s words are put into action.
The President's decision is not supported by credible scientific research or facts. He cites “tremendous medical costs and disruption” of transgender military service. UCLA Williams Institute research on private sector employers found that there were little to no costs associated with providing transgender-related care for employees. A study conducted by the RAND Corporation agreed with this assessment, finding that costs would represent – at most – 0.13% of the annual total health care expenditures for active duty service members.
In fact, his decision could be a costly one for the Pentagon. If the thousands of active duty transgender service members were to be discharged, the U.S. military would lose all it had invested in training them and would need to invest in training qualified replacements. Indeed, previous studies found that the cost of discharging gay service members under the now-repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy was between $22,000 and $43,000 per discharged individual.
The President’s charge that transgender service members are disruptive also has no scientific backing. The 18 other countries across the globe that allow transgender service members within their ranks, including allies like Israel and the UK, report few examples of disruption. Interviews conducted by the Military Acceptance Project demonstrate acceptance from peers and superiors related to transitioning among participants.
“[One Staff Sergeant] commended me for even coming out and that I was really the only one in the unit being transgender, being open as I possibly can, and she was just like ‘man, like, not everybody has the courage to do what you do.’ You’re making a step for the Marine Corp because you especially don’t hear this in the Marine Corps.”
“This was really a great time to actually start this transition… because I felt that [my] commander gave me that notion that I’ll be not only be accepted, but I’ll be able to continue my career here with that not being affected by it.”
President Trump’s tweets themselves stand to be much more disruptive than the slow and thoughtful implementation of the policy to allow transgender service members to serve openly begun under Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. As the Pentagon decides how to respond to Trump’s mandate, we urge that they consider our rigorous research and the lived experiences of transgender service members and their allies.
Ian W. Holloway, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, a Visiting Scholar at the Williams Institute, and Co-Principal Investigator of the Military Acceptance Project.
Jody L. Herman, PhD, is a Scholar of Public Policy at the Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.