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The Good News: Transphobia No Longer a Slam-Dunk

The Good News: Transphobia No Longer a Slam-Dunk

On Wednesday, July 26, the president tweeted that trans people will no longer be allowed to serve in the military.

Let history also record that on Thursday, July 13, Republican Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler of Missouri introduced an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that would put an end to the Pentagon’s Obama-era policy of providing gender reassignment surgery for transgender service members, and it was passed overwhelmingly by the Republican-controlled House.

Actually, no.

It was defeated. No, that is not a typo. And with five votes to spare, 214-209.

The House, in which the Republicans outnumber Democrats by 240 to 194, could not muster the votes — 24 Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with a solid block of 190 Democrats. (A few in each party were absent or did not vote.) 

Denying government funding for trannies to get sex change surgery? Folks, this is the closest thing to a slam-dunk that Republicans have, and it failed. It failed.

I’m sure Vicky and her Freedom Caucus buddies (three more from Missouri alone) must have been beside themselves.

This is a House that has been working to defund Planned Parenthood. It has successfully gone after everyone from Muslims to Mexicans on immigration. It has passed an law that the Congressional Budget Office estimates would take health care away from 22 million Americans and use that money to give tax cuts to the ultra-rich.

It has even gone into the tank for the National Rifle Association and guns for all, including the NRA’s new proposal to back the right of the unborn to carry concealed weapons. OK, I made that last one up. But still, Vicky and the caucus have been in the forefront of all of these social issue fights.

And yet this Congress, surely the most conservation in living memory, cannot muster the votes to deny gender-confirmation surgeries to trans service members. Well, I ask you, What is the world coming to?

This is actually a small watershed.

First, it’s amazing that 190 Democrats stayed together and voted against this. Not one wavering Blue Dog Democrat, not even the dozen imperiled Democrats from districts the Trump Monster won were willing to vote against us. So Democrats have pretty much internalized transgender rights as a core part of the human rights package (never thought I’d say this, but attaboy, Human Rights Campaign).

But what to make of the two dozen Republicans?

First, you have to suspect that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy did not have their hearts in this one and declined to “whip votes” for it. Republicans in the House have tended to vote in lockstep on nearly everything. It’s that kind of institution, that kind of party, and that kind of political moment.

Also. this is a remarkable transformation in a country where trans service members gained the right to serve openly barely one year ago. So it’s only been one year since trans service members could access “medically necessary” treatment.

Clearly we still have a way to go, since Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis put a six-month hold on the right of openly transgender recruits to be inducted into the military, and then, of course, flailing Trump banned all trans service members.

Trump's actions will encourage more trans service members to come out and make themselves visible. As there are more out trans military figures, Republicans are going to find it harder and harder to attack them, and therefore us as a community. They will not be an easy target for conservative attacks, and we will be less and less a political slam-dunk. Because all of them are making us all proud.

Oh, and the reaction to Trump’s new ban? Often the Republicans look to Sen. John McCain on issues involving the military and defense. And just seven years ago, McCain was a firm “No” on repealing "don’t ask, don’t tell," which would only have allowed LGB Americans so serve openly. Here's what he said \ Wednesday in a statement:

"[Trump's] statement was unclear. The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently-serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today. Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity. 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."

That’s what a sea change looks like. 

RIKI WILCHINS is an author and advocate.

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