What to say to people who think transgender people can’t serve in the military

Over the summer, Donald Trump shocked all of us by announcing that he was going to just randomly order the Pentagon to stop allowing transgender people to enlist or serve in the military. Luckily, multiple courts have struck the ban down, which means that going into 2018, transgender people are allowed to continue to serve and sign up for all branches of the military — but that doesn’t mean some people still aren’t on the fence about it. Since the administration has been so hostile towards the LGBTQ community, it’s likely this issue will continue to come up. To that point, we’ve compiled a handy list of things you can say to people who think transgender people can’t serve in the military for some inane reason.

Luckily, Trump’s initial tweets actually worked against him when it came to banning transgender military personnel.

It really did seem to come out of nowhere. In July, Trump tweeted that the military would not allow “transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming…..victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”


Immediately, lawmakers began to take legal action against the proposed ban, ultimately leading to it being struck down in a 76-page decision by U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who actually used the president’s very own tweets to form her argument, stating that he was undermining both the military’s current policy and all research on the matter. Had he just been suggesting that there be a ban until more research was done into the issue, she wrote:

"The Court by no means suggests that it was not within the president’s authority to order that additional studies be undertaken and that this policy be reevaluated. If the President had done so and then decided that banning all transgender individuals from serving in the military was beneficial to the various military objectives cited, this would be a different case.

So, had Trump thought a little harder about a tweet or consulted someone before hitting “tweet,” the Pentagon might not have been moved to declare that transgender people could continue to enlist. With this administration, things can change any time. We know this is a basic fact of existing in our country today, so with that in mind, here are some ways to defend the transgender community in conversation.

1If you support vets, you support transgender vets.

According to the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California in Los Angeles, about 134,000 transgender Americans are veterans, and the majority of them likely served under the previous ban on transgender people. Until 2013, transgender people were assumed to have a “gender identity disorder,” which disqualified them from service, just like anyone with mental illness would be. In 2013, the American Psychological Association issued a statement amending that flawed diagnoses. In 2015, the American Medical Association wrote that there was no medical reason that transgender people couldn’t serve their country. Currently, there are 15,000 transgender people in the military (although a fraction of them might not be out to their peers or commanding officers), even if they’re out to their civilian friends and family, which means that there have been transgender people in the military all along.

2Undermining transgender people in the military undermines science.

Trump’s actions seem to indicate that he loves to discredit some of the most important agencies and institutions we have. When he suggested that transgender people “cost” more in terms of their health care, he was essentially saying that all of the doctors and all of the psychologists in America are wrong. You can’t pick and choose when you want to agree with facts, and this is one of those instances where, if you trust the APA and the AMA about anything else, you can’t just decide that they’re “wrong” now.

3Transgender people serve for the same reasons anyone else does.

The Williams Institute found that transgender people enlist for all the same reason that other people do, such as “educational goals, career aspirations, travel, family history, patriotism, and stability.” There are some criticisms that transgender people would face bullying or lead to less cohesive units, but according to PBS News Hour, experts say that these problems are usually fixed with internal policy changes within the military, and they haven’t been issues in the American armed forces or in other militaries that they’ve studied around the world. Research has also found that transgender people don’t report any more mental or physical issues than any other group of people that would disqualify them from service.

4No, the cost is not an issue.

Since Trump cited cost as a main concern, this is obviously a sticking point. Unfortunately, he didn’t do his research (shocking) before opening his mouth. A 2016 study from the Rand Institute, found that given the active duty service members, and typical health care costs for gender transition treatment, the cost to the military could be anywhere between $2.4 and $8.4 million a year, which is just a fraction of its overall health care budget. And that’s assuming that every transgender person is going to take hormones or get a surgery, which is not the case. We currently spend $84 million on erectile dysfunction medication for active duty service members, so if we really are concerned about costs, we should start thinking about our priorities.

5Actually, it costs more to ban transgender people.


One study found that it would cost $960 million to fire all of the active duty transgender service members and then recruit and train new soldiers, which means that even if they went through with their discriminatory and absurd idea to ban transgender people, it would be a hit to the Department of Defense budget. No matter which way you look at it, the Trump administration should have looked into the actual research on the issues before making up policy they couldn’t enact.