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Republicans Worried About Trans Service Members in Showers

Vicky Hartzler
Vicky Hartzler

That's one of several objections raised by GOP House members who want to reinstate the ban on trans troops.

Republicans in Congress are out to reinstate the ban on military service by transgender people -- with some saying that cisgender service members might be uncomfortable bunking or showering with trans colleagues.

A year ago, then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that the military would lift its ban on service by trans people -- something that, unlike the ban on open service by lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, wasn't a matter of law but of military policy, so no act of Congress was needed. That meant the estimated 10,000 trans people already serving were able to be open about their identity without fear of discharge, but the armed forces put off enlisting new trans troops until July 1 of this year. Current Defense Secretary James Mattis is considering delaying that at the behest of the heads of service branches, but some members of Congress would like to rescind the trans-inclusive policy altogether.

And a few have raised a specter familiar from debates over LGB military service, ThinkProgress reports. "Is it fair to recruit our sons and daughters to fight for the nation and -- instead of being able to focus on the enemy -- subjecting them to disturbing distractions of very personal privacy issue involving sleeping and showering with individuals born of the opposite sex?" said Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri in Wednesday night's meeting of the House Armed Services Committee. "It is not. Military service is a privilege, not a right."

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq, voice a similar objection. "I could not imagine having to share berthing [bunks] or showers with somebody who was a girl and didn't have the surgery to become a man but kept the girl stuff and now she's with a bunch of guys or vice versa," he said, according to ThinkProgress.

Hartzler also proposed reversing the trans-inclusive policy via an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act requiring that all trans people currently serving be honorably discharged. She withdrew the amendment later in the meeting but said she did so "with the understanding and plea to Secretary Mattis to take the steps to restore readiness and make sure we don't waste precious tax dollars; and if that doesn't happen, understand that we need to take action once this gets on the floor."

"In other words, if the military doesn't reverse its own plan to implement transgender service, she'll push Congress to override it," ThinkProgress notes.

They also raised issues about the additional cost of health care for transgender service members, even though studies have indicated this will be negligible, and impact on military readiness, even though leaders have concluded there will be no negative impact -- the finding that led Carter to lift the ban, with the support of service chiefs. Hartzler even offered a hugely inflated estimate of the health care cost, one that "seems to be entirely unfounded," ThinkProgress reports.

Several Democrats readily defended trans troops, pointing out that many are already serving with no problem. One Democrat, Donald McEachin of Virginia, who is African-American, offered a telling analogy regarding racial integration of the military:

"What's really troublesome to me ... is that I can imagine -- not these individuals to my right, not my colleagues to my right -- but a Congress 70 or 80 years ago that said that a certain group of people weren't smart enough to fly airplanes, that they run at the first sign of battle, and that African Americans could not serve in the United States Armed Forces. Well, African Americans proved them wrong. The unit adapted, and I suggest that the unit adapt to transgender individuals as well."

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