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Transgender community reacts to Trump’s military ban

UPDATED: Wed., July 26, 2017

President Donald Trump greets lawmakers in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday after tweeting earlier the military would no longer “accept or allow” transgender people from serving in the armed forces. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)
President Donald Trump greets lawmakers in the East Room of the White House on Wednesday after tweeting earlier the military would no longer “accept or allow” transgender people from serving in the armed forces. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)

Members and allies of Spokane’s transgender community criticized President Donald Trump’s tweeted announcement that he would bar the group from military service.

“It’s discrimination. Bottom line,” said Jessie Jane Miller, who served in the U.S. Air Force for more than five years and recently completed sex reassignment surgery at Pullman Regional Hospital.

Trump announced the ban in a series of tweets early Wednesday that reportedly took the Pentagon and several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle by surprise. The Defense Department had delayed implementation of a policy approved under President Barack Obama that would have allowed induction of transgender recruits into the military, while the House of Representatives had been discussing a spending bill that would bar taxpayer funding of sex reassignment surgeries for the military.

In his tweets, which did not include the outline of any future policy or whether the ban would extend to current transgender personnel, Trump cited “tremendous medical costs.”

Miller dismissed the concern.

You have all kinds of military members with families that utilize the system to much larger tunes, and they’re worried about a couple million dollars,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

A Defense Department-authorized study last year by the Rand Corp. reported the health care costs of transgender service members would cost between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually, out of a $6.2 billion health care budget for all military personnel. That amounts to a 0.13 percent increase in spending, the report says.

Republicans who lauded Trump’s decision and have pushed to remove military spending on reassignment surgeries – among them Missouri’s Rep. Vicky Hartzler and Arizona’s Rep. Trent Franks – argue the policy is a form of social engineering and that any taxpayer spending on transgender health care is wasteful.

Miller said she had two months to decide whether she wanted to return to the Air Force after leaving in 2005 due to reductions in military staffing. Miller is a single parent with a 9-year-old daughter and said she likely wouldn’t return to active duty, but Trump’s policy could take that decision out of her hands.

“Don’t stand in someone’s way who wants to serve their country,” she said. “That seems like (that’s) all these people are doing.”

Robbi Anthony, vice president of the Inland Northwest Business Alliance that supports LGBT-friendly firms in the region, said Trump’s announcement continued a trend pushing back on hard-fought victories for the community.

“Right after the election, there was a lot of fear about how this community could be impacted,” said Anthony, a local tech business owner and transgender woman. “This is the manifestation of one of those fears.”

Anthony said she saw the announcement on Twitter. She said that while treatment of the community had been poor under past administrations, it had seen “acceleration” since Trump took office. Anthony referenced Wednesday’s announcement as well as a decision in February that rolled back an Obama administration directive protecting transgender students from using locker- and bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

“It doesn’t seem to have much of a place to help people,” Anthony said of Trump’s military directive. “This is probably the most consequential thing that’s happened to the community so far.”

Jac Archer, an Eastern Washington University graduate and vice chair of the Spokane County Democratic Party’s Central Committee, noted that Trump’s announcement came on the 69th anniversary of President Harry Truman’s order desegregating the military.

“Honestly, for me, as a black trans person, I took it a little personal,” said Archer, who is gender-fluid. “I was really upset and frustrated on behalf of people who want to serve.”

Archer said Trump’s statement amounted to identifying transgender people as a problem, if only an economic one.

“Language that identifies people as a problem always has the potential to embolden dangerous behavior,” Archer said.

Marvin Reguindin, general manager of the Inland Northwest Business Alliance, questioned where such a policy could end.

“We don’t feel that this is moving forward in any way,” said Reguindin, who’s been with the organization for two decades. “Gays and lesbians could be next on the list, as well as bisexuals, saying they should not serve in the military because of one thing or another. Will they roll back the role of women in the military?”

Democratic lawmakers in Washington and abroad signaled resistance to Trump’s policy.

Gov. Jay Inslee said Washington has more than 100,000 active-duty men and women and Defense Department civilians in the state, and called the announcement “an insult to these service members and an affront to our nation’s values.”

The state supports the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, he said, and will continue to welcome transgender individuals who want to serve in the National Guard “until the president’s tweet is made into an official order.”

“We’re assuming no change in policy because we haven’t seen a change in policy,” Jaime Smith, Inslee’s spokeswoman, said. “One of the troubling things about this is you don’t want to discourage people who want to serve from serving.”

If there is a policy change, Washington would have no choice but to follow it, Smith said.

Karina Shagren, communications director for the Washington Military Department, agreed that the state’s National Guard must follow policies and guidance from the Defense Department and the Guard Bureau. Right now, the policy is that transgender individuals are eligible to serve.

As far as Washington Guard officials know, it did have one member who was transgender in the past, but none is currently serving, Shagren said.

Washington’s delegation in the U.S. Senate quickly condemned Trump’s policy. Sen. Maria Cantwell called the policy “discriminatory,” and Sen. Patty Murray said “it does not represent who we are as a nation.”

The office of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, did not provide a response to Trump’s tweeted announcement when reached by phone Wednesday.

Miller said the policy could also have a chilling effect on younger members of the transgender community, who now may have to decide between their identities and serving their country.

“If we were to draw a bottom line, and grasp all the good reasons for letting trans people serve in the military versus all the reasons not to let them serve, we’d come up with a drastic counterbalance,” she said.

Staff writer Jim Camden contributed to this report from Olympia.

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