“Men on board ship live in particularly close association; in their messes, one man sits beside another; their hammocks or bunks are close together; in their common tasks they work side by side; . . . they form a closely knit highly coordinated team. How many white men would choose, of their own accord, that their closest associates in sleeping quarters, at mess, and in a gun’s crew should be of another race?”
— Report from the chairman of the general board to the secretary of the Navy, “Subject: Enlistment of men of colored race in other than messman branch,” Jan. 16, 1942.
I cited that passage in a column that I wrote more than 25 years ago criticizing a Dec. 9, 1991, ruling by U.S. District Judge Oliver Gasch upholding the Navy’s right to expel a gay midshipman from the U.S. Naval Academy.
The spirit of that 1942 Navy report and a Jan. 28, 1982, Defense Department directive declaring, “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service,” guided Gasch’s decision.
The Defense Department’s ban on gays in the military simply adopted the earlier, discredited rationale for a racially segregated armed services. Read the 1982 directive: “The presence of such members adversely affects the ability of the Military Services to maintain discipline, good order, and morale . . . among . . . servicemembers who frequently must live and work under close conditions affording minimal privacy.”
The biases and fears against gays in the military rested upon the same kind of stereotyping and myths used against black service members decades earlier.
Today, the country officially recognizes that the military was wrong to cater to prejudice against Americans based upon skin color or sexual orientation.
America agrees that the opportunity to perform as soldiers, sailors, Marines or Air Force members should rest upon qualifications and ability, not invidious distinctions based on race or sexual identity.
This week, however, brought fresh evidence that the respect for basic humanity explicit in U.S. policies on military service has been lost on President Trump.
Trump fully embraced the rancid prejudice that in the past turned away men and women ready to put their lives on the line for the United States. Without warning to Congress, the public or rank-and-file members of the military, the president resorted to Twitter to announce that he is banning transgender people from serving in the military in any capacity. He not only is turning away transgender people from the armed services. Trump is opening up the possibility of thousands of openly transgender members being expelled from service, and he has created the likelihood of many more having to conceal their identity and return to the closet.
Just like that, in a social media tweetstorm, Trump wiped out federal policy welcoming transgender Americans to serve openly in the military (although the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apparently blindsided, said sensibly Thursday there would be “no modification” to current policy unless the White House turns the president’s tweets into a formal directive that is conveyed to the armed forces by the secretary of defense). And he resorted to some of the same bogus “military readiness” excuses that once barred a racially desegregated military and the presence of gay men and lesbians in uniform. A 2016 Rand Corp. study found that allowing transgender service members to serve openly would not be a drawback to military readiness. “The number [of members] would likely be a small fraction of the total force and have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs,” the report said.
Yes, there are moves afoot among far-right conservatives in Congress to stop the Pentagon from paying for gender reassignment surgery and medical treatment plans for transgender troops. And the military was reviewing its medical standards to accommodate transgender service members. But Trump precipitously nixed all that.
He said kick them out and don’t let others in.
Does he even know, does he even care about what he has done?
The president is subordinating Americans solely on the basis of their gender identity. His outrageous action has given a green light to subjecting transgender people to contemptible treatment and exclusion in other aspects of American life.
That ought to offend every American. Trump’s attack on transgender service members joins the growing list of ignorant, irrational and morally offensive decisions he has made since Inauguration Day.
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