By Michael R. Bloomberg
It’s hard to know where to begin with President Trump’s tweeted ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military, which manages to offend on both moral and practical grounds, in both style and substance. But it might be instructive to look at Israel, whose transgender soldiers have helped to defend it from existential threat for almost two decades.
Any military’s survival – and by extension any nation’s – depends on its ability to draw on the talents of the widest possible population. Denying the U.S. military this ability undermines U.S. national security.
Trump is also mistaken about the “disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Other countries that allow transgender soldiers – including not just Israel but several other U.S. treaty allies that have fought side by side with Americans in numerous conflicts – have found little to no effect on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness or readiness.
Moreover, any service member who cannot abide the thought of fighting next to an equally qualified person of a different gender or sexual orientation endangers military discipline.
What of the “tremendous medical costs” that Trump mentions? Transgender personnel account for well under 1 percent of all active-duty service members, and only a small percentage of them will seek care that could affect their ability to deploy.
Estimates put the additional medical cost at about $8 million – about one-thousandth of 1 percent of the military budget.
Defense Secretary James Mattis had already ordered a review of the issue of allowing openly transgender recruits to join the military.
But he and other senior officers have made clear they saw no reason to roll back current policy, which allows transgender persons currently serving to do so openly. Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said the services will allow transgender troops to remain in uniform until Mattis receives an authoritative order to remove them.
“In the meantime,” Dunford said, “we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”
Trump’s peremptory ban on transgender individuals serving “in any capacity” flies in the face of that measured response. It also seems to have more to do with politics than policy.
Most of all, Trump’s tweeted ban smacks of disrespect: for the military’s careful process, for the value of political deliberation, for the American ideal of equality.
And, finally, it demeans the service of the transgender people currently serving in the military, who have volunteered to fight and die for their country, and deserve the gratitude of all Americans.
Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News. He is the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for cities and climate change.