OPED: Transgender discrimination in the military won't make America great

Don Kusler
Tribune News Service

Editor’s note: The writer is addressing the question, “Is President Donald Trump right to call for banning transgender individuals from serving in the military?”

NO: When President Donald Trump tweeted that he had conferred with "Generals and military experts" and said the United States "will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military," it marked yet another misinformed episode in his tenure as commander in chief.

Let's start with the unprofessional way Trump made the announcement. It became clear shortly after his tweets that the generals did not know this was coming or, at the very least, that it would be coming at this time.

Trump's on-a-whim approach was disrespectful to the very people he needs to actually carry out the policy, not to mention the brave service members directly impacted.

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Trump's governance by tweet too often sends administration officials scrambling to understand, defend and implement his directives — often at their own peril.

This chaotic approach is not only unprofessional, it's unsustainable, as evidenced by the constant state of upheaval seen in the Trump administration.

Now let's talk about the potential policy. Sadly, we have a long history of restricting military service and excluding different groups of people. Women, minorities, and certainly LGBT Americans have endured periods of exclusion.

Time and again, though, history has proven exclusion and the rationales that accompany it to be shortsighted. The exclusion of transgender Americans from the armed forces will be no different.

Military service is honorable and voluntary. Folks from every walk of life give up their livelihoods — and many their lives — to serve us. When we exclude people based on false assumptions and bigoted fears, we lose.

Not only is exclusion in and of itself wrong, it is foolish to turn away capable volunteers.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said it well in his statement on Trump's tweets, "We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are."

Whether the rationale for Trump's policy is ensuring unit cohesion, lessening disruptions or lowering costs associated with gender reassignment surgeries, these excuses for exclusion are quickly dismissed by studies and personal accounts from military members themselves.

Kristin Beck, a decorated transgender Navy SEAL, made critical points about several of these false rationales in an interview with Business Insider.

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"A very professional unit with great leadership wouldn't have a problem," she said in response to Trump's tweets.

Beck also criticized the government's treatment of the people it depends upon.

"They care more about the airplane or the tank than they care about people," Beck said. "They don't care about people. They don't care about human beings." A veteran with 20 years of experience seems more qualified to comment on the matter than our current president.

People, all people, are what make our country and our military great — not the weapons and equipment that prop up the military industrial complex.

Until we fully support the people serving our government, we will not meet our full potential. From beginning to end, public service should be open to all, respected with decent pay and benefits without exception, and protected from spontaneous political decisions.

Trump's policy decree via tweet is harmful and ill-informed and, most importantly, will not make America great, as he so often exhorts.

Exclusion is a sign of fear, not strength. Divisiveness is the tool of those without compassion, without courage and without genuine ideas.

We should push back in the name of decency but also in the name of effectiveness.

Policies governing public service, military and otherwise, should not be based on politically expedient impulses. Effective administration of our government, and particularly our national defense, demands more.

— A native of Texas, Don Kusler is national director of Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal advocacy organization.