On Tuesday morning, my heart sank when I opened the Orders list from the United States Supreme Court — the justices ordered the discriminatory trans military ban to stay in place while the many cases challenging the policy make their way through the lower courts.
By a vote of 5-4, the Supreme Court green-lighted another one of Trump’s animus-fueled policies targeting a marginalized group.
I was heartbroken first for trans people who have been planning to enlist for years and whose dreams have been put on hold by this policy. I was heartbroken for all the trans people who are currently serving under a policy that reluctantly allows (some of) them to retain their jobs but under a Commander-in-Chief who doesn’t support them and a policy that deems them unfit for the service to which they have devoted their lives. And I was heartbroken for all trans people who had to sit through more government action animated by a belief that we don’t exist or shouldn’t exist at all.
I have complicated personal feelings about the United States military. I do not generally support U.S. military action and am opposed to our country’s catastrophic interventions in the global South and around the world. When my brother and best friend decided to join the United States Army, I was heartbroken. When he deployed to Afghanistan, I was terrified. His service did not change my view of our foreign policy but it did broaden my perspective on how much our service members and their families take on.
For any misgivings I may have about the U.S. government and our policies overseas and domestically, I have no misgivings about my support for transgender individuals currently serving and wishing to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. This is a question about whether one of our nation’s largest employers can turn trans people away simply because we are trans. It is about whether government benefits will be withheld from trans people because of animus and disgust. At the center of these cases and this policy is a question of whether the federal government will recognize trans existence and health care.
If President Trump’s military ban is permitted to stand it will set a dangerous precedent for all trans people in all aspects of our lives. When announcing the ban on Twitter in July of 2017, he defended it on the ground that trans people are costly and disruptive because of who we are and the health care that we need. These are outright lies. Our health care is not costly nor does our existence disrupt others.
But for all of the support for trans service members receive on social media and all the hashtags defending our existence, the truth is that many anti-trans policies gain momentum because of widespread and willful ignorance about trans people, our bodies, and our health care.
The Trump administration is now advancing another dangerous argument: that this is not actually a ban on transgender service at all because trans people can serve as long as we don’t transition, are comfortable in our assigned sex at birth, and have no health care needs related to transition. But this is what defines a person as trans and why the ban is definitionally a ban on trans service. Yet, this idea that we can suppress our trans-ness or that our identity is less real than the identities of non-trans people is behind much of the anti-trans rhetoric we see in government policy and public discourse.
To effectively fight this military ban and the many anti-trans policies coming out of this administration and many state governments, we need to meaningfully support trans lives every day. That means challenging efforts to exclude trans people from single-sex spaces and activities, challenging the faulty premise behind op-eds that purport to debate our existence, ending policies that restrict our health care and access to identification, and supporting trans leadership in all of these efforts.
Because we can't win without your help — especially now.
CHASE STRANGIO is a trans activist and lawyer in New York. Follow him on Twitter @ChaseStrangio.