In a trio of tweets sent out of the blue this morning, President Donald Trump announced a complete reversal of policy changes launched under President Barack Obama to allow transgender troops to serve openly in the military:
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow......— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
....Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming.....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
....victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2017
Note that while Trump brings up medical costs, this isn't an announcement that the Pentagon won't pay for transgender treatment or surgery. It's a blanket ban on all transgender troops, regardless of how well-adjusted they might be or whether they want any sort of medical treatment at all.
There are thousands of transgender troops serving in the military. The exact number cannot be determined easily since until the Pentagon began to develop policy changes just last year, they were not allowed to serve openly and were discharged if they revealed being transgender. A RAND study estimates somewhere around 4,000 active and reserve members of the military are transgender.
Here's what's particularly horrifying, assuming that Trump's tweets are an indication that he's completely reversing the changes the Pentagon had already begun. Now that it was safe to do so, transgender troops had begun to come out and serve openly as the gender with which they identify. And now that has become a trap: Those who believed that it was safe to be themselves and still be in the military could end up being purged.
Further investigation shows that, much like what happened with the end of the military ban on gays, allowing transgender people to serve does not bring some sort of breakdown in military order. The RAND study I mentioned above examined 18 countries where transgender troops are permitted, and it did not find problems with readiness or unit cohesion.
There's no indication the U.S. military is any different. Check out this piece about Air Force Staff Sgt. Ashleigh Buch, who came out as transgender after the shift in military policy last fall and began living openly as a woman. She and her commanders report that everybody was accepting of Buch's change. Yet despite the lack of any problems, she's now at risk of being purged.
Trump campaigned as an ally to LGBT people, even making a big deal about inclusion in his speech accepting the nomination. So how did this policy end up reversed? Here's what an anonymous White House official told Axios reporter Jonathan Swan:
This forces Democrats in Rust Belt states like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, to take complete ownership of this issue. How will the blue collar voters in these states respond when senators up for re-election in 2018 like Debbie Stabenow are forced to make their opposition to this a key plank of their campaigns?
Some of us had been hoping these shifts toward accepting LGBT folks would mean that this part of the culture war—and the heavy partisanship that had come to define it—would fade. I'm fairly sure Democrats will have no problem taking "ownership" of the issue.
Trump may not hate LGBT folks or wish them any ill will, but that doesn't mean he actually cares a whole lot about what happens to them.
UPDATE: Senate Armed Service Committee Chair John McCain (R-Arizona) is not happy with how Trump decided to announce this massive policy change via tweets:
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