July/August 2019 Church & State Magazine | Editorial

After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld marriage equality in 2015, Religious Right groups did a quick pivot from that issue and began attacking transgender people.

They have a powerful ally in this crude crusade: President Donald Trump. Trump, reportedly at the urging of his council of far-right evangelical advisers, abruptly banned transgender troops from the military, a policy he announced via Twitter. Trump didn’t even bother to consult top military officials on the matter, and some of them made it clear that they don’t agree.

Litigation resulted over the matter, and the Supreme Court has allowed the ban to remain in place while lower courts consider the legal challenges to it.

More recently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that it will do away with a rule promulgated by the Barack Obama administration that prevents single-sex homeless shelters from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Trump’s proposed policy is obviously designed to allow shelters to refuse to house transgender people.

The rationale for these arbitrary and cruel policies is vague at best. Even Trump himself can’t seem to defend them. This is, perhaps, not surprising given the president’s general inarticulateness, but on the question of transgender troops Trump was worse than usual.

Trump was asked about the ban by TV host Piers Morgan last month – and immediately began flailing.

“Because they take massive amounts of drugs, they have to – and also, and you’re not allowed to take drugs,” Trump said. “You’re in the military, you’re not allowed to take any drugs. You take an aspirin. And they have to after the operation. They have to. They have no choice. And you would actually have to break rules and regulations in order to have that.”

While it is difficult to cut through this kind of incoherence, it’s important to try because even in this era of “fake news,” the truth really does matter – and what Trump is saying here lacks even a passing relationship to the truth.

First of all, the men and women serving in the military take drugs all the time. Taking illegal substances isn’t permitted, of course; but service personnel, like millions of other Americans, take prescription drugs.

Many transgender men and women take hormones prescribed for them by a physician. This is no different from a service member who might take medicine to control high blood pressure or high cholesterol, or deal with other conditions. There’s absolutely no reason why a man or woman in uniform can’t take a prescribed drug and serve.

And obviously, the military has access to plenty of legal drugs to help service personnel. No one is limited to aspirin, which is a good thing considering that drug’s limitations for people who are injured in battle.

As for gender-reassignment sur­gery, some transgender people get it and some do not. Surgery is not such an uncommon thing in America these days. Most people go under the knife at some point or another. If needing surgery was a disqualifier for military service, our nation would have no troops.

It’s unclear whether Trump personally dislikes transgender people. Media reports indicate that his policies in this area have been spoon-fed to him by Religious Right groups. Like every other Trump policy touching on religion, the administration’s stand on trans people has all the hallmarks of something drafted by lawyers employed by Religious Right groups.

But the fact that these policies may be sops to Trump’s base doesn’t make them less harmful. The opposite is true: The administration’s anti-trans crusade is quite harmful to transgender people, denying them the rights that millions of other Americans take for granted.

Worse yet, the transgender community is a vulnerable population, one whose members can easily fall through the holes of a tattered social safety net.

Consider the administration’s policy on transgender people and homeless shelters. Trans youth are at high risk here. Many of them have been rejected by their families and exiled to live on the streets. Instead of finding a way to help this vulnerable population, Trump wants to make it easier for taxpayer-funded religious groups to slam the door in their faces.

Given that transgender young people already have a much higher rate of suicide than the rest of the population, it’s easy to see how a heartless policy like this results in real harm.

Trump’s “pro-family” brigade may not care about this. All kind and decent Americans should.