York-area trans advocates fear fallout from Trump military ban

David Weissman
York Dispatch

Local transgender people and LGBT advocates denounced President Donald Trump's ban on transgender individuals serving in the military as another action dividing the country.

Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday, July 26, that after consulting with “generals and military experts,” that the government “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.”

Trump added that “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.”

News to Pentagon?: The Pentagon, which appeared to be caught off-guard by Trump’s tweets, referred all questions about them to the White House.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, said in a brief written statement that the Pentagon is working with the White House to “address” what he calls “the new guidance” from the president on transgender individuals serving in the military.

Davis said the Pentagon will provide revised guidance to Defense Department officials “in the near future.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that the Department of Defense and the White House will work together to implement Trump’s plans. She did not provide a timeline for the process.

Sanders described the move as a “military decision” and said Trump was concerned the current policy “erodes military readiness and military cohesion.” She said the secretary of defense was notified Tuesday after Trump made the decision.

'Clear message': Carla Christopher, a York City LGBT advocate, said her initial hope in seeing the tweets was that they were just more uncontrolled rambling by the president and not a completed policy decision.

Carla Christopher greets attendees during Equality Fest, Sunday August 2, 2015.  John A. Pavoncello - jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com

Transgender service members have been able to serve openly in the military since last year, when former Defense Secretary Ash Carter ended the ban.

Military chiefs recently announced a delay on allowing transgender people to enlist. But transgender troops are already serving openly in the military.

More:York's transgender community facing workplace discrimination

Regardless of the finality of Trump's decision, Christopher said his statements make her worry for every transgender person serving or aspiring to serve in the military.

"This is a clear message from the top that transgender people in our military are not valued," she said. "So what's inspiring other people to treat them with equality and human rights while they're serving?"

Discrimination: Tara Stark, a Harrisburg transgender woman who used to live in York City, pointed out that many consider serving in the military to be the most American thing one can do.

"For such a pro-military administration to say someone is unfit to serve because of who they are (and not their qualifications) is akin to saying they are inherently less than full American," Stark wrote in a text message.

Tara Stark

Stark recalled scoring highly on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam in high school.

"The Marines literally knocked on my door trying to recruit me," Stark wrote. "Is the White House now saying they wouldn't want this same highly qualified recruit?"

Dan K., an 18-year-old non-binary transgender Springettsbury Township resident, said they considered joining the military when they were younger but decided against it because of how poorly the country treats its veterans.

Dan asked The York Dispatch to withhold their full name for safety reasons. Non-binary transgender people do not identify as a man or woman.

In this file photo, Ellen Davidson, of Elizabethtown, holds the transgender flag Thursday, March 31, 2016,  during a rally at the state Capitol to fight for the passage of the Fairness Act which would offer protections for LGBT individuals with regards to employment and housing. Amanda J. Cain photo

Dan said they saw Trump's message as a huge step back in the battle for equal rights and a bad message to send to the country's youth.

"If you're a 15-year-old who wants to join the Navy and are coming to the realization that you're transgender, this is like getting your future ripped away with no promise of ever getting it back," Dan said.

Preston Heldibridle, a 19-year-old non-binary transgender Seven Valleys resident, said the ban has a direct effect on all transgender Americans, not just those serving or hoping to serve.

"The fear in the back of my head continues to be: what next?" Heldibridle wrote in an email. "If they can do this with little to (no) consequence, what lies ahead for us? How far will they be able to take this rhetoric against us, when it has been proven false time and time again?"

Stark echoed those thoughts.

"Whether intentional or incidental, acts that dehumanize transgender people like this are contributing to an environment where it's okay to physically attack trans people," they wrote.

More:By the numbers: Transgenderism in U.S and Pa.

Stark pointed out that the rhetoric being used now against transgender people is the same rhetoric that was used against women, blacks and homosexuals joining the military.

"This isn't 'don't ask, don't tell,'" Stark wrote, referring to the former U.S. policy barring openly gay, lesbian or bisexual people from serving in the military. "This is 'don't serve, don't serve.'"

Health care: Stark, Dan and Heldibridle were critical of Trump using medical costs as a reason for the ban. They pointed to various statistics and studies showing the costs of covering gender transition to be minimal compared to the overall military health care budget.

A study released last year by RAND Corp., a nonpartisan research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges, estimated that extending gender transition-related health care coverage would increase costs by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.

Heldibridle pointed out the announcement was suspiciously coming at the same time as the U.S. Senate considers health care reform.

"Our community is affected by both these actions," they wrote. "We will not abandon one in favor of the other."

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.