EDITORIAL: Trans people have right to serve
It's bad when the Supreme Court sides with a president trying to kick people who want to serve their country out of the military.
But that's what the court did on Tuesday, Jan. 22, when it allowed the Trump administration to implement its plan to restrict military service by transgender men and women.
Around 9,000 members of the U.S. military are transgender. They make up about 1 percent of the country's armed forces.
Transgender men and women weren't allowed to serve until 2016, when the Pentagon announced that transgender people already in the military could serve openly and that transgender recruits would be allowed in 2017.
And then came the 2016 election, and one of President Donald Trump's early orders via tweet was released in July 2017: “United States government will not accept or allow” transgender people “to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
This was actually not the first attack by the Trump administration on trans people. The first was just a month after his inauguration, in February 2017, when the Department of Education lifted Obama-era guidance that allowed trans students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that matched their gender identity.
Since then, the administration has rolled out a long list of changes and rules that are eroding the protections that transgender people have fought to gain, from then-Attorney General Jeff Session's reversal of a rule that civil rights laws protect trans workers from discrimination, to a definition of sex as "a person's status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth" proposed in the Department of Health and Human Services.
And now the Supreme Court has shown that it will probably side with Trump on this one. In a 5-4 decision, the court will allow the administration to put its plan into effect while challenges work their way through the lower courts.
The Pentagon will begin to bar enlistment by people who have undergone a gender transition and require that military personnel serve as members of their biological gender. More than 900 people who began to transition under the 2016 policy will be allowed to continue to serve as openly transgender military personnel, but no one else will.
The Pentagon said its policy on transgender troops is based on professional military judgment and necessary to "ensure the most lethal and combat effective fighting force."
Advocates for trans troops disagree. Jennifer Levi, an attorney for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, said in a statement that the "Trump administration's cruel obsession with ridding our military of dedicated and capable service members because they happen to be transgender defies reason and cannot survive legal review."
The Trump plan harkens back to the days of "don't ask, don't tell," the Clinton-era policy that allowed gay service members to continue to serve as long as no one knew they were gay. Trans people can continue to serve as long as no one knows they're trans.
The idea is cruel and absurd.
The diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which the Pentagon requires for a transgender person, could take a long time. While there are children who realize that they are not comfortable with their gender, others might not realize why they have those feelings until later in life, including after they enter the military.
Plus, it's not fair to change the rules on the 8,000-plus trans military members who haven't begun a transition.
There's no reason for the military to bar or discharge someone who wants to serve just because their birth certificate says "him" but they would like to be "her."
We hope the lower courts continue to hold that the Trump administration's plan is effectively a ban on transgender people and therefore unconstitutional.
And we hope at least one more justice will also recognize that when the case makes its way to the high court.