President Trump’s Twitter triptych announcing his ban on transgender service members in the military was so despicable and reprehensible, shocking even, that I let out an audible gasp on the train. His out-of-the-blue, seat-of-the-pants pronouncement also caught the Pentagon by surprise. What Trump did was especially galling because transgender Americans now in the military have displayed more courage than their commander in chief, who never served.
But as shocking (does that word even have meaning anymore?!) as what Trump did was, what happened next was actually more surprising. Republicans came to the defense of transgender Americans in ways once thought impossible or unimaginable. The Daily 202 has a nice catalogue of GOP gasping over the president’s tweets. So, let me give two of the noted special attention.
More than two decades ago, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was out front in supporting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that banned gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military. When the Senate voted to overturn the policy in 2010, McCain deemed it “a very sad day.” On Wednesday, the Senate statesman said in a statement, “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military—regardless of their gender identity.”
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) is the one I most want to applaud. Tracked down by MSNBC on Wednesday for his reaction to the substance of Trump’s transgender tweets, Hatch was unequivocal.
Look, people who are transgender, they don’t choose to be transgender. They’re born that way. And why should we hold that against them? And they’re human beings, and many of them are extremely talented human beings.
What Hatch said is what should come naturally but rarely does. He affirmed the humanity of transgender Americans while defending their right to continue to serve their nation. He said flat out that people who are transgender are “born that way,” thus laying waste to the bigoted assertions masquerading as fact fogging the so-called bathroom debate around the country. In a tweet, he added, “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone.” In a message to military brass on Thursday, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote, “There will be no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.”
In the ever-growing messy pile emerging from the White House, I’m always on the hunt for a pony. That rock-ribbed conservative Republicans are standing up for transgender Americans is a sign that one exists. Yes, pernicious efforts to deny or strip away rights from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans remain. Also on Wednesday, the Justice Department filed an amicus brief in a case arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not apply to sexual orientation as it does to the prohibition of employment discrimination based on sex. The Obama administration argued that it did.
There is the battle of policy and the battle of ideas. Both are long-running, but the latter shapes the former. It is a sign of progress that advancement in the battle of ideas over the humanity of LGBT people has not been lost. And for that, I want to thank President Trump. Sometimes, what you need is an unrepentant bully or some unhinged individual with itchy Twitter thumbs to reveal who will stand with you when danger appears.
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