Posted by Guest on August 03, 2017 in Blog

Immigrant_Rights_March_(2809096021).jpgBy Sarah Decker

Following the Muslim Ban, which bars the entrance of refugees and individuals from five Arab countries and Iran, all Muslim majority countries, Trump’s latest ban seeks to prevent transgender soldiers from serving in the U.S. military. 

The ban was announced through a series of tweets on July 26, just over a year after Trump declared his LGBT- friendly credentials, also via Twitter. The decision to prevent the service of transgender military personnel in any capacity was framed as way to cut costs and preserve security-based efficiency. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” A Buzzfeed reporter claimed to overhear someone in the Pentagon muse, “we’re taking orders via Twitter now?” The Pentagon was apparently unaware of the policy announcement. 

While the military has not historically covered the cost of gender-transition surgeries (though the Obama administration did announce plans to begin doing so), according to a 2016 RAND analysis commissioned by the Department of Defense, transition-related costs would be between $2.4- $8.4 million annually. RAND estimates that there are currently between 1,320 and 6,630 active-duty transgender service people. A similar 2015 study conducted by The New England Journal of Medicine places this number at 12,800 with total care costing between $4.2-$5.6 million. 

For perspective, even using the highest data predictions, enabling transgender personnel to serve would increase the military health-care spending by 0.04-0.13%. This is one tenth of the annual $84 million that the military spends on medication for erectile dysfunction. The failed F-35 jet, which can barely fly at night, cost $1.5 trillion. The relative costs of providing medical care to transgender service people drops into the ten-thousandths of a percent when taking into account the fact that the Department of Defense budget as a whole is expected to be set at $640 billion for FY 2018.  

Clearly, this ban isn’t actually about medical costs. Instead, it is a part of the administration’s larger agenda to undo measures undertaken by Obama and instead implement discriminatory policies that function by isolating and banning various minority groups. In addition to the transgender ban, July 26 also marked the release of a federal brief that excludes sexual orientation from the identities protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, James Esseks, condemned this ruling in a statement. “On the day that will go down in history as Anti-LGBT Day, comes one more gratuitous and extraordinary attack on LGBT people’s civil rights.”

In its brief, the Justice Department argued that the Civil Rights Act does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, inserting itself into a federal case in New York. The case involved a Long Island skydiving company, Altitude Express, firing an instructor, Donald Zarda, after he told a female client on a tandem dive that he was gay. In its amicus brief, the DOJ stated that “the sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination.” The major federal civil rights law bars discrimination in the workplace based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” The DOJ argued that “any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.”

As mentioned in a Washington Post piece about the DOJ decision, perhaps the most important political fact about the amicus brief is that it was filed at all. Normally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), not the DOJ, provides input concerning discrimination cases with private employers. The court has also asked only the EEOC, not the DOJ, for its opinion.

In addition to the release of this ruling and the transgender ban Twitter announcement, on July 26 Trump revealed that he would nominate Kansas governor Sam Brownback, a vocal opponent of LGBTQ rights, to be the nation’s ambassador at large for international religious freedom. As a senator, Brownback pushed for a federal ban on same-sex marriage. As governor in 2015, he also signed a broad executive order in Kansas that prohibited the state government form acting against religious groups that refuse service to LGBTQ individuals. In addition to using his previous positions to target LGBTQ rights, Brownback has also supported anti-Muslim legislation. (Link to Kai’s piece)

ACLU executive director Anthony Romero described the ban, the DOJ brief, and the nomination of Brownback as “the most cynical of dog-whistle politics” and an effort to “rile up the president’s base as this administration flounders on health care reform and the Russia investigation, and as its popularity ratings plummet.” Together, these three announcements demonstrate a renewed interest in rolling back LGBTQ rights, providing insight into a larger agenda to minimize the liberties of minority groups, including immigrants and refugees.

Just days after the President’s tweets, 56 retired generals and admirals released a letter warning that the barring of transgender people from the military would degrade military readiness by “causing significant disruptions, depriving the military of mission-critical talents, and compromising the integrity of transgender troops who would be forced to live a lie.” Trump’s three-tweet policy announcement, coupled with other efforts to undermine the rights of minorities, will leave many talented Americans ineligible for service, effectively dividing and weakening our military. As quoted by Newsweek in a piece by One Young World founder, Kate Robertson, “It is this very type of baseless discrimination that hurts people, tears communities apart and weakens society’s sense of common humanity.” 

Sarah Decker is a Summer 2017 intern at the Arab American Institute.  


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