Transgender military service works, and congress should protect it
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After President Donald Trump tweeted that the Pentagon would bar transgender Americans from serving their country in uniform, the White House acknowledged that Trump’s snap decision to ban trans troops was a baldly political move, with an administration official saying the maneuver “forces Democrats in Rust Belt states” into tough terrain.

But the U.S. President appears to have miscalculated. The Democrats are uniformly opposed to playing politics with honorably-serving transgender troops, and Republican Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE is leading the charge to protect them. He is not alone, as 14 Republican senators have issued statements in favor of transgender military service. The Republicans are rallying to defend the troops because Trump’s ban is a stark reversal of inclusive rules that were being successfully implemented when he took office, because it’s not right to play politics with the armed forces, and because inclusive policy does not burden military readiness.

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I know first-hand that what these Republican senators say is true, and that President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE’s assertions that trans service is disruptive and expensive are false. Nearly twenty years ago, I became the first officer to transition gender and serve openly in the British Armed Forces.

The indisputable evidence—not only from my personal story but from the experiences of 18 nations that have a successful policy of open transgender service, as well as robust research findings from think tanks, scholars and even the U.S. military itself—is that transgender service is not disruptive.

What burdens military readiness is singling out one group of effective fighters for humiliating and unequal treatment, and subjecting them to unrelenting fear that their enforced secret will be found out, destroying their careers, undermining their units, and wrecking lives. That’s why military leaders around the world, including U.S. service chiefs, have made it known that, despite Trump’s unmistakably political move, they don’t support anti-LGBT military discrimination.

Prior to transitioning in 1999, I spent 19 years as an air-defense navigator on F4 Phantom’s during the Cold War, and afterwards as a navigator/tactics specialist on Battlefield Helicopters in a counter-terrorism role. I went to war several times, including as a tactical-air-operations command-and-control officer during Desert Shield, and from within Bosnia, with the UN and then NATO, during the war there in 1995. During these years of service, I always gave 100 percent of what I had, and my unit recognized and valued me for that service. But what I had to give wasn’t all that it could have been, because I was always looking over my shoulder. I worried that I would be outed as transgender or blackmailed for keeping a secret I wasn’t allowed to share. Every day I feared that I could lose my job, my career, my livelihood -- indeed that I could lose everything, just because LGBT service was banned.

But my lifelong struggle around my gender identity was not abating; it was intensifying, and I worried that the forced hiding would take a toll on me and those around me. When I could no longer bear to live this lie, I outed myself to my superiors, expecting to be swiftly dismissed. It was a devastating decision, as I longed to remain a career officer, and I prepared to suffer the consequences. But it was the only decision I could make.

And then, a surprising thing happened: Nothing. The Royal Air Force directed that it wanted me to stay. My commanders wanted to retain my skills and experience. While bigots and others uncomfortable with who I was hurled abuse and hate toward me, trying to turn people and policymakers against me, the military stood its ground, recognizing the tremendous value of my contributions and supporting my transition. A year later, in 2000, the British military officially ended anti-LGBT discrimination, permitting open service to all.

A few people grumbled about the policy change, but the new policy was overwhelmingly considered a success. I spent another sixteen years as a female aviator on battlefield helicopters, serving eight tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where I was credited with helping save lives with my work enhancing tactical capability and surface-to-air-missile protection systems, the very same systems that are used on American troop-carrying aircraft and helicopters.

Part of the argument offered by the Trump administration in opposing transgender service has been the alleged dollar cost of providing adequate health care to transgender troops. Yet my medical transition cost less than $10,000, and my time away from duty was 45 days, considerably less than non-transgender colleagues who were unavailable for duty for far longer due to stress, injuries or illness. During most of my days away from duty, I was able to work remotely from my home. The cost for the British military to retain me after I transitioned amounted to filling a prescription for about $10 every six weeks. The return on investment? Sixteen additional years of commended frontline service by a highly trained flight navigator with invaluable expertise on critical missile defense systems. Having spent more than $1 million on my training, it would have been quite a waste for the military to fire me.

Research conducted by the RAND Corporation at the behest of the Pentagon confirms that cost complaints are a ruse, and Trump’s “tremendous medical costs” don’t match reality. RAND spent over a year exhaustively studying the impact of transgender service on readiness, including on the Defense Department’s budget, using actual costs and usage data from the best available public and private sources. It concluded that the added cost of providing transition-related health care for transgender troops would be one-tenth of one percent of the active-duty health care budget, or a maximum of $8.4 million per year. By contrast, a recent report authored by a group of military professors estimates the cost of training replacements for all the transgender troops who are currently serving would be $960 million.

The fact is, there is no way transgender people can be stopped from serving in the military. We have always been there, even when barred, standing on the frontlines when it counts, ready to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect liberty and life for our fellow citizens. Right this moment, transgender troops in fighting forces around the world don their country’s uniform and keep watch whilst others sleep soundly. We are pilots, weapons officers, soldiers, sailors, medics, surgeons, engineers, intelligence officers, counter-terrorism specialists, and more.

Why would anyone want to do our enemies’ jobs and cut down these patriots; undercutting force readiness by requiring them to needlessly worry about their tenure in uniform? Why would anyone want to burden them and their units, commanders, subordinates, families and friends with the ripple effects of forced lies and destroyed careers? The evidence is in, transgender troops aren’t a burden, aren’t a disruption. We don’t harm our militaries; we strengthen them.

Caroline Paige is the first transgender officer to have served openly in the UK military. Her work in Iraq and Afghanistan earned her several commendations for exceptional service. In 2014, she retired from the RAF following a 35-year flying career and now teaches battlefield tactical skills to European military helicopter crews. She is also the author of a new book, "True Colours: My Life as the First Openly Transgender Officer in the British Armed Forces."