In June of 2016, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that the ban on transgender servicemembers would be lifted. Secretary Carter said that he would tell commanders to “start with the presumption that transgender people can serve openly without impact on military readiness.” With that he also outlined that those who are transgendered and in the early process of their transition would not be allowed to enlist. An individual would have to provide documentation from a doctor showing he has been living as his new gender identity for 18 months and is free of any distress. The announcement indicated that the military would begin recruiting new transgender recruits. US military services chiefs asked for an additional 6 months to “study the issue” and complete work to help integrate new transgender recruits. Under the new guidelines, transgender soldiers would be able to serve openly and could not be discharged just for being transgender.As a bit of background, after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, while gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members were allowed to serve openly but as part of the exclusions, those who had “psyschosexual disorders” could not serve openly and could be medically discharged if they were suspected of being transgender.
As we know from past experience with the implementation of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and before, servicemembers serve with those ma not conform with the straight heterosexual identification. Prior to “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the subsequent repeal, many servicemembers served (and continue to serve) in the military honorably while identifying as something other than heterosexual. This is the case with transgender servicemembers, despite the fervent beliefs of others. The Williams Institute at University of California at Los Angeles estimates that there are over 15,000 transgender individuals serving on active duty or in the Guard or Reserve forces. Perhaps more surprisingly, they estimate that over 130,000 veterans or retired from Guard or Reserve service identify as transgender. The Rand corporation estimates that there are between 1,320 – 6,630 transgender service members in the active component.
Vicky Hartzler and the talking points
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Republican serving the 4th Congressional District of Missouri, initially introduced and then withdrew an amendment banning transgender people from serving in the military. She specified that if the military doesn’t block the new policy from being implemented, she would reintroduce her amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. She would allow the banning of transgender people from service into law. Facing some pressure, she decided to soften the language of her amendment. Instead of calling for a ban, she instead introduced an amendment that would prohibit funding from the Department of Defense to provide medical treatment (other than mental health treatment) related to gender transition. A senior House Democratic aide told Huffington Post that Jim Mattis called Hartzler and asked her to pull the amendment.
Rep. Hartzler made two objections to having trans soldiers serve openly and be recruited. The first is that it would be too expensive. She claimed that in the first 10 years, it will cost the military $1.35 billion to cover transition-related surgeries for new servicemembers. This $1.35 billion is part of “precious taxpayer money.”
This argument that the money from taxpayers should not be used to pay for transition surgeries is one that we will revisit, again.
Her other objection is that transgender individuals are not ready to serve because of their medical condition. If “flat feet, asthma, and sleepwalking are disqualifying, so too should being transgender, because it’s a medical condition.” She concludes her parade of horribles with an idea that if transgender individuals are recruited, there would be disturbing privacy issues because you have to shower with individuals born of the opposite sex.
Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California, said “I could not imagine having to share berthing or showers with somebody who was a girl and din’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.”
Somewhat forgotten in these statements is the role of transgender individuals who have already served or are currently serving.
Rep. Hunter was also against ending the ban of gay soldiers in the military. He framed the argument, then, just as he does now, around the issue of privacy. In a 1993 talk, Dr. Frank quoted Hunter as saying
Why won’t you listen to the mothers and fathers, military leaders like General Schwarzkopf and hundreds of thousands of young Americans in uniform who are begging you not to force our young Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen into close living quarters with homosexuals?
Of course this issue never really arose.
After the ban of gay soldiers was lifted in the UK, a press official at the Ministry of Defence released that the worries of privacy and sharing showers with gay soldiers was a dud. Despite widespread threats of resignations from the military, they did not see almost anyone resign because of the lack of privacy.
The final objection that is implicit in these critiques are the idea that the military should not be involved in “social experimentation.” This, if you know your military history, is the same argument that was previously used to argue against military integration and more recently the argument used to prevent gay or lesbian soldiers from serving openly.
The financial costs
Nobody really knows where Hartzler is getting her idea of how much it will cost. Her estimation of $1.35 billion over a ten year period is also based around a cost of $130,000 per surgery. Quick math would be that there would be just over 10,000 of the gender surgeries over the course of 10 years. Her estimation is that this is basing it off of 30% of those deciding to opt for the surgeries, which would mean about 3,000 trans soldiers to be recruited/year.
The Rand Corporation which put together a study on how transgender service members would affect the military. Based on their estimations from private health insurance data, they estimate that between 29-129 service members would utilize transition related health care. They also found that about 140 service members would initiate the transition-related hormone therapy. This is compared to 278,517 service members accessing mental health services in FY 2014.
The Rand Corporation’s estimation was that the health care cost by allowing transgender soldiers would increase between $2.4 to $8.4 million annually. This would hardly affect a $6 billion in FY 2014.
The critique that something would affect military readiness is a tried and true strategy. During the debates prior to the implementation of “don’t ask, don’t tell” Senator Sam Nunn and Colin Powell framed their objection to homosexuals serving in the military around troop readiness. In Unfriendly Fire by Dr. Nathaniel Frank, he notes that Senator Frank Murkowski framed his objection to homosexuals serving in the military around health issues. Even after being assured of HIV and AIDS screenings, he objected based on the strain to the Veterans Administration.
The Rand Corporation also took a look at what would happen for military readiness. They concluded that less than 0.0015% of the total available labor-years would be affected. This is, in part, because less than 0.1% of the total force would seek transition-related care that “could disrupt their ability to deploy.”
The Marine Corps who previously argued against ending the gay band released a report that concluded that lifting the gay ban is “unlikely to pose any significant risk to morale, good order, discipline, or cohesion.” I am going to echo the arguments from ending the ban of gay soldiers to ending the ban on transgender soldiers. As Lawrence Korb, the assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan wrote that “telling military members that they can’t deal with open gays, that they’re not mature enough or well disciplined enough is divisive.” I believe that telling soldiers that they are not mature enough to handle transgender soldiers is likewise divisive.
In fact, we know from the past that people have served with transgender soldiers and are currently serving with them. There has been nothing to show that troop readiness is lower because of it.
The arguments that cohesion for troops will disappear have been made each time that the expansion of military service has been expanded beyond straight white males. Each time, it has been decisively been shown to be wrong. Why would we assume that this will be the time that it will finally fail? Because…that’s what people say.
While the Hartzler Amendment is not overturning the decision put in place by the Pentagon under the Obama administration, the amendment trying to limit the healthcare provided to those willing to serve is a direct message to transgender soldiers that their sacrifice is not worth those of others. The reason that it is important to combat lies and misstatements is because people are being treated very differently and in a poor manner. They are being treated this way because certain people believe that they are having an adverse role in the military.
Rep. Bacon gave an interview on KFAB discussing the role of transgender soldiers. He praised Rep. Hartzler changing the scope of her amendment to not have taxpayer money pay for any “conversion surgery or anything like that.” It should be noted that conversion surgery is considered medically necessary for those who suffer from gender dysphoria. But there are more treatments than just surgery for those who suffer from gender dysphoria and there are more health related issues than just surgery. The American Medical Association, since 2008, has recognized that hormone therapy is also considered medically necessary for those who suffer from gender dysphoria. For some, gender-affirming surgery may be the only effective treatment.
He also called for respect to everyone, as he likes to do from time to time. This respect is limited to the impact that you have on taxpayers, however, and if you do something that he deems that the taxpayers do not want then that respect can be taken away. Effectively determining that some people are not worthy of being covered for health care coverage that they are entitled to through their sacrifice and willingness to serve the country is, in fact, the opposite of respect.
Rep. Bacon is concerned that a number of people would not be able to deploy because they are going through conversion therapy which does impact readiness, is his argument. Again, the Rand Corporation found that this is a miniscule number. He also then compares when he took too much painkillers and not being able to be around nuclear launch codes before deciding to reassert what the vote was about.
He could mention that transgender Americans have served openly in forward locations such as Camp Anaconda and Balad Air Base in Iraq, New Kabul Compound and Kandaha Air Base in Afghanistan, and aboard US Navy ships operating in the Persian Gulf. Currently 18 other countries, including 2 of our strongest allies in Britain and Israel, allow transgender soldiers. Certainly, Rep. Bacon understands this from his close military friendships with soldiers in Israel.
The vote was about whether US taxpayers should cover surgeries and things like that, he says. This is true. But the vote was whether or not transgender soldiers should have their care covered that they were entitled to when they signed up for military service or should they be treated like second class soldiers. And the answer for Rep. Bacon is that they should be treated like second class soldiers. By ensuring that their care is not taken care of, Rep. Bacon is effectively deciding that transgender people should not serve in the US military and retroactively degrades the service of those serving or who have previously served. Certainly, this is the conclusion of his vote, even if he refuses to state it outright. At the very least, he is discouraging those who are transgender from serving in the military. I wonder what degrades military readiness more, transgender soldiers or certainly, none at all.
Ultimately, this amendment failed. 209 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, including Don Bacon. 24 Republicans joined all 190 Democrats in rejecting the amendment. While Bacon calls for an open discussion about the issue, perhaps he should talk to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis regarding it.
This has been emblematic of Bacon’s tenure in office. He consistently calls for people to be “respectful” or civil while advocating and supporting policies that do anything but. While many members of Congress who are facing tough challenges in 2018 or represent moderate districts have tried to be moderating their stances so that they can get re-elected, Rep. Bacon has consistently voted the Republican leadership line. The idea, although not a hard and fast rule, is that you should represent your constituents and their ideology to get elected and re-elected. Certainly, people like Ron Johnson have shown that to be not 100% true.