Transgender service members are responding to President Trump’s decision to ban openly transgender Americans from the military.
Prominent trans activists, as well as current and former military members like Chelsea Manning, former Navy SEAL Kristin Beck, and creator of the Trans Pride flag Monica Helms have called out Trump’s Twitter statement that “...the United States Government will not accept or allow ... Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
Helms — a Navy veteran who served for eight years between 1970 and 1978 — told BuzzFeed News, “what Trump did was strictly to serve his bigot followers and nothing else. Trans people have proven to serve well and without any issues, both in our country and several throughout the world.”
In an interview with the Air Force Times, trans US Air Force Staff Sergeant Logan Ireland, who starred in the 2015 New York Times documentary Transgender, at War and in Love, stated that he had no plans to leave. “I would like to see them try to kick me out of my military,” he said. He added, “[F]or the president to deny an able-bodied, fully qualified person the inherent right to raise their right hand and serve their country, potentially giving their own life for our freedoms, is doing this country an injustice.”
Shane Ortega, a trans and disabled retired Army sergeant who has appeared on Netflix’s The Trans List and served three combat tours, spoke on air with MSNBC, declaring that Trump’s announcement was “a completely egotistical move” and a deflection.
“I think he’s honestly trying to circle the American people to deflect and detract the principles and goodwill of what it is to be an American service member,” Ortega said. “And he’s trying to use them as pawns right now in order to invoke some sort of emotional reaction from the public to circumvent his own investigations that are going right now toward his impeachment.”
Kristin Beck, a retired Navy SEAL with 20 years of military service, also spoke to BuzzFeed News about the announcement, arguing that Trump’s claim that trans services members are financially straining the military’s health care is “a cop-out.”
“It’s something else because the money was really not that much,” Beck said. “Medical costs for transgender people are the equivalent of one price of one wheel of a fighter … it’s a leadership problem, take care of your people.”
A 2016 analysis by the RAND Corporation, a public policy research organization, found that adding gender-affirming medical coverage to transgender personnel would see health care costs “increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, representing a 0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.”
Earlier in the day, Beck had a harsher message for Trump.
“Let's meet face to face and you tell me I'm not worthy,” she told Business Insider. “Transgender doesn't matter. Do your service.”
Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier who was released from military prison this year after leaking documents to WikiLeaks in 2010, mocked Trump’s claims about trans health care on Twitter, describing the move to ban trans service members as “cowardice.”
so, biggest baddest most $$ military on earth cries about a few trans people but funds the F-35? sounds like cowardice #WeGotThis— Chelsea E. Manning (@xychelsea) July 26, 2017
The Williams Institute estimates that 15,000 current service members identify as transgender, and more than 134,000 retired or veterans of the Guard or Reserve service. RAND’s estimates for current service members are significantly smaller, citing between 1,300 and 6,000.
It remains unclear how Trump’s tweet would be turned into policy and what would happen to trans service members who are currently out.