On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman signed an executive order bringing down the barriers between service members of all races, signaling the beginning of a racially integrated US military.
On July 26, 2017, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that transgender troops would no longer be allowed to serve in the military, supposedly to curb the cost of health care for transgender troops and to protect morale.
Trump’s announcement to re-ban transgender troops comes a year after the Obama administration made a plan to integrate trans personnel into the military. In many cases, as the RAND Corporation reported in a study commissioned by the Department of Defense last year, between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender people had already been serving in the US military, out of 1.3 million total people.
Facing opposition from both Democrats and Republicans, Truman signed the order to integrate troops “as rapidly as possible,” the New York Times reported the following day. Truman called for men in uniform to have “equality of treatment and opportunity” regardless of their race or ethnicity. Years later, as Harry Conn wrote for the New Republic in 1952, racial integration in the military had nearly become an afterthought.
Surely integration came after some opposition within the ranks. As political science professor Steven White at Syracuse University points out, leaders within the US Army said segregation was necessary because many Southern whites found “close personal association with Negroes to be distasteful.” Sounds a bit like the same arguments made about folding openly LGBTQ people into the military. Elaine Donnelly, the president of the Center for Military Readiness, similarly argued in 2009:
Unlike workers who return home at night, military personnel must accept living conditions that involve "forced intimacy," with little or no privacy. This would be tantamount to forcing female soldiers to share private quarters with men — a situation that would be unacceptable to the majority of military women even if misconduct never occurred. Stated in gender-neutral terms, the new law would require military persons to accept exposure to persons who may be sexually attracted to them.
Attitudes within the military shifted, and it was believed that such a change would be a model for racial integration across America, where Jim Crow laws still created barriers between black spaces and white ones.
Decades later, the military’s racial integration model, followed by its ongoing evolution of women service members, became a model for integrating gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members after the fall of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010. Integrating transgender troops was on the horizon, but given Defense Secretary James Mattis’s stated opposition to LGBTQ service members and a failed move in Congress this month to stop funding gender affirmation health care for military members, the plan to fold in openly transgender military personnel was likely doomed.
How the de-integration of trans people in the military will go down is, at least for now, still to be determined. The Department of Defense has yet to clarify the policy the president announced on Twitter. Some even pointed out that Mattis is out on vacation this week — it’s unclear if the department was given a heads up on the change.
In the meantime transgender service members are certainly concerned about their futures and, in some ways, their dignity.