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A transgender ban in the military will undermine national security

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As Congress conducts a hearing on the implementation of open service for transgender people in the military and considers legislation to undo the misguided and discriminatory Trump administration policy banning transgender people from serving in the United States military, lawmakers would do well to remember history and recall that if we left determination of who is fit to serve our country solely to the military leaders, our armed forces today would likely be composed exclusively of white straight men.

Leaders from World War II, such as General George Marshall and General Omar Bradley, criticized the 1948 executive order of President Truman to integrate African Americans into the military. The Army had actually kept African Americans in separate units until the early casualties of the Korean War forced leaders to allow African Americans to join previously all white combat units. In the 1970s, a group of admirals openly fought against the attempt of Admiral Elmo Zumwalt to fully integrate the Navy. Prior to his ascension to the top Navy job, African Americans serving in the Navy were primarily relegated to noncombat positions such as cooks and cleaners.

{mosads}In 1980, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were able to convince the outgoing Carter administration to issue a directive claiming that military service was incompatible with homosexuality and therefore not only would gay, lesbian, and bisexual people be prevented from joining, but those currently serving would be forced out and would not be granted good conduct discharges. In the early 1980s, the military tried to roll back the number of women serving in the armed forces and tried to eliminate positions open to them, which had happened under President Carter.

In the 1990s, the military resisted allowing women to serve in combat positions, as well as the attempt of President Clinton to allow gay, lesbian and bisexual people to serve openly. Not only was this resistance amoral and born of stigma, it had cost us talented service members and wasted millions of taxpayer dollars. These are just some of the repeated instances of military leaders hindering progress within the ranks through word and deed. Yet, when each of these policies were implemented, military leaders not only accepted them, but realized they actually improved readiness.

As General David Petraeus noted in 2016, the current state of our military is awesome. I have no doubt that if the harmful policy barring transgender people from serving openly is overturned by the federal courts or the next administration, the results will be the same. As Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President Bush and President Obama, said when President Trump first proposed the ban, “Thousands of transgender Americans are currently serving in uniform. Therefore, there is no reason to single out these brave men and women and deny them the medical care that they request.” To be clear, denying transgender people health care services is to deny transgender people full and equal rights.

Denying the thousands of transgender service members the opportunity to serve our country as their authentic and whole selves harms readiness and shrinks the pool of potential recruits at a time when the armed forces are already having trouble meeting their goals. Open service has been a reality for two years, without disruption in defense, and President Trump and our military leaders should be working hard to fully implement this policy, rather than associate themselves with the resistance of the past.

Lawrence Korb is a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress. He served as assistant secretary of the Defense Department from 1981 to 1985.

Tags Donald Trump Government Military Pentagon President Security United States

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