A Defense of the Transgender Military Ban

Image via New Haven Register

It’s not bigotry. It’s just business.

Anyone who decides to risk their lives for our freedom in the United States military is a hero, no matter what race, religion, sexual or gender identity.

Even the people who the U.S. armed forces turn away for various reasons – including but not limited to flat feet, bunions and asthma – are also heroes for simply wanting to serve.

But nobody cries “ableism” whenever these brave folks aren’t allowed into the ranks of the strongest military in the world. We understand that the costs and accommodations necessary for their conditions would burn taxpayer money and negatively affect our military’s combat readiness, the factor that matters more than anything else.

So no, President Trump’s announcement Tuesday that transgender people will not be able to serve in the United States military in any capacity, is not transphobic. It’s just common sense, if you don’t let your emotions blind you.

(Though we could go into depth about how it was wildly inappropriate for this announcement to come on Twitter, we will only examine its merits)  

Estimates on the medical costs taxpayers would have to cover for transgender troops range dramatically, from a widely cited RAND study that found costs would total between $24 million and $84 million over ten years to Missouri representative Vicky Hartzler’s office research that puts the price tag around $1.35 billion.

Even using RAND’s numbers, the picture isn’t as rosy as news outlets are spinning it to be.

There are about 2,450 transgender troops active right now out of 1.3 million total. That works out to less than two tenths of one percent, so any numbers related to transgenders’ overall effect on all health spending for active troops will look very small, which downplays the risks associated with each individual transgender person in the armed forces.

RAND estimates approximately 1 in 50 transgenders in the military will seek transition surgery each year. These surgeries can cost more than $100,000 in all, including hospital stays and anesthesia.

The military regularly turns people down because they present similar risks of needing surgery that would cost taxpayers and prevent them from deploying. To make an exception for transgender individuals is nothing but political correctness.

In addition to those with medical issues, the military also turns away recruits with a spotty histories of drugs or alcohol, and those who seem to lack, “legal and character standards,” whom they judge on criteria, “including traffic offense history, criminal history, citizenship status and more.”

This standard doesn’t exist because people with bad histories cannot reform and are necessarily incapable of faithfully serving their country, it’s because they are statistically more likely to present conduct problems the military does not want to deal with. In a workplace where mistakes get people killed, it’s necessary recruit with that in mind.

Transgender individuals experience mental health issues and attempt suicide at alarmingly higher rates than the general population. While many are likely fully capable of serving their country, it would be beyond irresponsible to permit members of any similar group – 53% of whom are, “experiencing current serious psychological distress,” and 40% of whom, “have attempted suicide at some point in their life,” – to fight alongside the rest of our soldiers.

Some on Twitter have likened Trump’s transgender ban to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy rescinded by President Obama, but that comparison doesn’t stand up. Being gay is matter of who a person happens to find sexually attractive and does not involve surgeries or have as high a risk for compromising mental health issues.  

We can respect transgender individuals as our fellow citizens and appreciate that many of them are willing to serve in the armed forces, while also understanding it’s objectively better that they don’t. It’s not bigotry, just business, and the business of protecting our safety and freedom at that.

Tyler Olson is a student at the Pennsylvania State University studying broadcast journalism and political science. He has written for The Daily Collegian.

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