At the age of 13, I picked up the book Absolutely American by David Lipsky that followed the lives of a few cadets at West Point. I was immediately hooked. It was a story about people from vastly different backgrounds coming together to become something bigger than themselves. It did not matter if you were black or white, Jew or gentile, male or female — in the military, you were judged by how well you did your job. From then on, joining the Army became my dream.
Ten years later, in May of 2017 as I prepared for my graduation from West Point, I was handed a memo from the Pentagon that said despite completing every requirement asked of me, I would not be allowed to commission as an officer. The reason? Despite the lifting of the ban on trans military troops by the Obama administration — one reason why I came out — I still required a medical waiver to become an officer. Both the previous administration and West Point supported my commission, but the Trump administration did not. Unable to receive a commission, I was discharged upon graduation. I remain the last person to be discharged for my gender identity.
Two months after my graduation, President Trump tweeted that transgender individuals would no longer be allowed to serve in the military. He thought about the decision for 10 minutes. While unsuccessful at discharging any trans people, this action delayed the implementation of the Obama policy that would allow me to commission.
Now, I work as a data analyst for the private sector as I continue to search for options into becoming an officer. My fight to rejoin the military has not ended, but the end may be in sight. On January 22, the Supreme Court declined to take a stance on the ban, allowing it to go forward while the challenges continue through the lower courts.
I know how current and aspiring trans military personnel must be feeling. Currently serving trans service members live with the fear that they might be denied re-enlistments, trainings, promotions, and transfers. For those not yet out, they are seeing the light at the end of the closet darken. Faced with the prospect of never legally transitioning, many promising careers will abruptly halt as trans people find ways to leave the military early. Aspiring service members, like me, will have their dreams extinguished.
As a response to Trump’s thoughtless decision, the government has tried to build an irrational policy to ban trans people from the military around a tweet. This policy was not well-reasoned then and it is not well-reasoned now. The government rests their case against trans people on two issues: cost and readiness. The facts prove that neither of these are legitimate arguments.
Years of careful study went into the policy that allowed transgender people to serve openly in the military. A Defense Department-commissioned study by the Rand Corporation, published in 2016, put the annual cost between $2.4 million and $8.4 million per year — a 0.04 to 0.13 percent increase in the military’s health care budget. In comparison, $84 million per year goes into Viagra medications for troops. Not only is the cost negligible, but the price to replace the estimated 15,500 trans service members would be astronomical. Training a single fifth-generation pilot is $11 million. The tremendous cost of a ban automatically invalidates it.
The government also argues that trans military troops would harm “readiness” by distracting from the overall mission of winning America’s wars. But this is false. There have been trans people serving openly since the ban was lifted in 2016 without any negative impact on morale, readiness, or unit cohesion. All four chiefs of staff of the military have unequivocally confirmed this. Judge Jesus Bernal of the Central District of California, in his December 2017 decision to put a stay on the ban, wrote: “In the history of military service in this country, ‘the loss of unit cohesion’ has been consistently weaponized against open service by a new minority group. Yet, at every turn, this assertion has been overcome by the military’s steadfast ability to integrate these individuals into effective members of our armed forces.”
A total of 18 countries, ranging from the United Kingdom to Israel, allow trans people to serve in the military as their authentic selves. America’s military, which prides itself on being the greatest fighting force in world history, is falling behind. Discrimination destroys units, and the military is suffering because of the Trump administration. The government reneges on its oath to support troops and veterans by purposefully harming those who volunteer to defend us.
The Supreme Court’s decision to allow the ban to go forward jeopardizes 15,500 transgender service member’s careers and the livelihood of their families, and creates an immense cost to the taxpayer. My own dream to become an officer may be in its twilight if the ban becomes policy. How many thousands more have to suffer the indignity foisted onto me and others for no objective benefit?
Riley Dosh is the first openly transgender graduate of West Point and currently works as a health care consultant in DC, where she advocates for LGBTQ and veteran rights. She can be reached at Ms_Riley_Guprz on Twitter.
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