In the US Navy, there is an elite corps of special warfare sailors, who endure one of the toughest selection training courses in the world before graduating to their new units, which undertake the most demanding, difficult, and often covert missions on behalf of their country. They’re known as SEALs, an acronym that stands for SEa, Air and Land, the environments where they operate. You may recognize this as the force which found and killed 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout back on 2011. The sailors that accomplished that historic mission belonged to SEAL Team Six, the Navy’s counterterrorism squad. This famous unit has rostered among its members a senior chief petty officer, who came out as transgender in 2013.
Her name is Kristin Beck, and during her two decades in the Navy, she served with distinction, earning a the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals for her gallantry under fire. She went through the grueling BUD/S training program which all SEALS must complete, and proudly wore the iconic Trident emblem with her shipmates in the storied echelons of “SpecWarriors”, as the community is informally known. Beck retired in 2011, but were she still wearing her country’s uniform today, all her daring exploits in defense of our freedom would go by the boards, for the Commander-In-Chief, Donald Trump, declared in 2017, through a series of early-morning Tweets, that “the US Government will not accept or allow transgenders [sic] to serve” in “any capacity in the US Military”. This stunning reversal of President Barack Obama’s 2016 order ending the preexisting ban on transgender service has now survived several court challenges, and will go into effect starting April 12. It’s a scathing dismissal of the valor displayed by thousands of trans troops in every branch of the military, whose courage extends beyond the battlefield to serving as their true, authentic selves in defense of the Republic.
Of an estimated 15,000+ active-duty, reserve, and National Guard transgender troops, most who are expressing their post-transition gender identity rather than their earlier gender, will be affected by Trump’s orders, ad see their military careers ended. Only troops who present as “their sex assigned at birth” may continue serving, while those living as their authentic gender, transitioning, or receiving hormone therapy, will not be allowed to enlist. This White House directive has implications for transgender soldiers and sailors far beyond the uniform. As the Pentagon begins to separate these servicepeople from careers that span the globe and involve every type of Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), in some cases ending decades-long tours of duty, trans troops face the prospect of civilian life in a politically hostile society. With states passing anti-transgender laws, and hate crimes against LGBTQ people continuing to increase, returning transgender veterans will likely find themselves on a whole new battlefront.
Then, there’s the matter of that covenant the government makes with people who enlist in our fighting forces. That promise is manifested in the form of a federal agency that cares for them after their service ends. It’s called the Veterans Administration (VA), and it provides lifelong healthcare to those who wore the uniform. There’s a caveat though. I recently asked two VA social workers, “what will these transgender veterans’ status or eligibility for benefits be in the eyes of your agency?”, and they both said this would “depend on their discharge type”. Only those honorably or medically (service-connected) discharged may be eligible for VA healthcare once they leave the military. That puts may trans troops, who may have transitioned or begun hormone therapy while serving, in limbo. If the Pentagon puts them out under other-than-honorable conditions, it could mean severe physical and mental health consequences for these soon-to-be veterans.
That this is happening at all in 2019 is a national disgrace. Consider that we have an all-volunteer military, one which strives every month to meet its recruiting goals in a highly competitive job market. People — straight, gay, lesbian, or trans — who sign up, take the oath, and put on the uniform, knowing full well they might be going into harm’s way, deserve our gratitude, not our collective scorn. Is it relevant that a damage-control sailor is transgender, when she’s on a ship that’s just been torpedoed and is starting to sink? Does it matter that the pilot who bombs the enemy is flying in his truthful gender identity? Will it affect a Marine’s ability to shoot accurately if he is on hormone therapy? Of course not. It only matters that they are serving proudly in their authenticity, keeping us living in freedom and safety.
Yet, Trump, as Commander-In-Chief, is maliciously denying the very freedom to live and serve, to the soldiers, sailors, and aviators who willingly go where he, himself, would not go during the Vietnam War. This is not what the American armed forces stand for, nor is it part of the ethos upon which our country was built. In bringing this odious ban to reality, Trump not only rolls back progress, he spits in the face of all veterans, not just those who are LGBTQ. That’s something for the American people to remember, and ponder, every time our armies are on the march, our navy puts to sea, our Air Force takes off, our Marines land on some far-flung enemy beach, or the Coast Guard rescues a ship in distress. I salute those transgender troops, past and present, who marched alongside their brothers and sisters in arms, to protect me. All of them deserve better than the injustices an ungrateful, transphobic government is meting out to them.