In a series of 140-character missives, Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday that he was banning transgender people from the military, reversing an Obama-era decision to allow trans people to serve. The move, while not wholly surprising from a man who has already rescinded protections for trans students and who appointed a woman with a history of anti-trans activism to run the Gender Equality Office for the State Department, could be a sign that Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis, with his inconsistent stance on women and LGBT people serving in the military, won’t stop with trans people. It wouldn’t be shocking if LGB service members and women were the next to have the right to serve their country with honor stripped from them.
Trump’s trans ban comes after Mattis — who said during his confirmation hearing in January that he had no intention of reversing policies allowing LGBT people to serve openly — announced in June that he would delay final implementation of the policy put in place by Obama’s Defense Department that would allow trans people to serve openly. Those already serving were able to come out of the closet last year, and enrollment of new trans recruits was supposed to begin this month, but was delayed by Mattis.
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people were officially barred from military service for years, and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, passed under President Bill Clinton, was supposed to be an improvement but did not work out that way. Queer service members still had to be closeted, and many were discharged until the law was repealed in 2010 under the Obama administration. Mattis, responding to questions on his position regarding LGBT servicemembers during his confirmation hearing, appeared to uphold DADT's reversal, saying, “I’m not concerned about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with.”
At the time, he also promised that he had no intention of reversing a 2015 decision made under Obama's administration that would open all front-line combat jobs to women. But Trump's invidious action banning trans service members not only heralds this administration’s willingness to marginalize trans people at will, denying civil rights, and fanning flames of hatred against them that will no doubt result in hate crimes, but it sends a message that Trump’s and Mattis’s words mean zilch.
While Mattis appeared to support female and LGBT service members a mere six months ago, it’s important to pay attention to his history. During the hearing, Senate Armed Services Committee member Kirsten Gillibrand grilled Mattis on his record regarding his stance on women serving in infantry positions, quoting him from remarks he made as recently as 2015.
“You said you did not think [women in combat positions] was a good idea,” Gillibrand said to Mattis. “You said, 'When you mix eros, when you mix affection for one another that could be manifested sexually, I don’t care if you go anywhere in history, you will not find where this has worked. Never has it worked.'”
Gillibrand continued by quoting a troubling speech Mattis gave in 2014, which, while he was ostensibly referring to heterosexual pairings, could easily evolve into his argument against LGB people serving. “You said the idea of putting women in there is not setting them up for success. Could we find a woman who could run fast enough? Of course, we could. Could we find a few who could do the pull-ups? Of course, we could,” Gillibrand said. “That’s not the point at all. It’s whether or not you want to mix eros.”
Meanwhile, Trump’s decision has been roundly praised by religious conservatives, a group that, despite Trump’s several marriages, his record of grabbing women without consent, and accusations from women that he’d assaulted them, supported him blindly and wholeheartedly throughout the election.
“I applaud President Trump for making America safe again,” said Liberty Counsel founder and chairman Mat Staver in a press release. “The military is a lethal weapon designed to protect America and our allies. It is not a social club, a social experimentation petri dish, or ClubMed. The focus should be military readiness and unit cohesion. The President has kept his promise to return to military priorities by not continuing the ‘transgender’ policy that undermines unit cohesion, preparedness, and morale.”
It didn’t take long for the right to connect the dots between the ouster of trans service members and demanding all LGBT people be removed. Conservative Christian radio host Matt Barber put out a call on Facebook demanding the military remove all “sexual deviants" from its ranks.
“Next step? Prohibit all open sexual deviancy in the ranks of the armed services. The military is no place for extremist San Francisco-style socio-political activism. Such social engineering destroys national security, troop morale and unit cohesion. It also violates natural law, settled science, and God's moral law,” Barber wrote.
The smartest thing Barber and the like have done is to praise Trump, whose ego and id are essentially in charge of the country.
“President Trump did the right thing today by prohibiting those suffering from the gender dysphoria mental disorder,” Barber wrote. Individuals with other mental disorders and even flat feet cannot serve in the military. It's a privilege, not a right.”
While calls from Barber and his ilk to ban all LGBT people from serving may appear far-flung, the dog whistle to Trump in the form of flattery isn’t off the mark. Lucky for Barber that he mentioned “flat feet” and not “bone spurs,” the "ailment" that kept upstanding citizen Trump from serving any time in the military while our trans brothers and sisters have defended him all along.