It’s a rare day I say this, but President Biden is right.
On Monday, Biden rolled back one of his predecessor’s most controversial policies: the restrictions placed on the ability of transgender people to serve in the military.
Conservatives might be tempted to recoil reflexively at what they see as liberal social justice experimentation in the armed forces or to defend Trump’s policy instinctively because they broadly supported the last administration. This would be a mistake.
It’s important to be clear about the exact policy at issue here. Whether it’s a full “ban” is of much dispute. Here’s how the the Hill summarizes the Trump policy: “Under the Trump administration policy, transgender service members can only continue serving if they do so as the sex they were assigned at birth, unless they are granted a waiver. The policy also allows those who came out under the Obama administration policy to continue serving openly. Any new transgender enlistees, however, are barred from service.”
Trump clearly put in place restrictions that needlessly limited a demographic group from serving and, in doing so, stigmatized transgender people as unfit. There was no actual fact-based justification for this exclusion.
Trump cited the “tremendous medical costs” supposedly associated with transgender enlistment in the military as one of his prime rationales, but this never made any sense. There was always an option simply not to have the military pay for transgender transition treatments rather than exclude groups of people entirely. And it was always a minuscule amount of money, relatively speaking.
A study from the RAND Corporation found that health costs for active transgender service people would only represent a “0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.” Indeed, before Trump’s rules took effect, the military was spending five times as much on Viagra as on transgender healthcare.
The Trump administration’s other main justification was the “disruption” to unit preparedness and cohesion that the inclusion of transgender service members in the military allegedly provides. But a study by three former military surgeons general actually found the opposite, that the restrictions are what really hurt military readiness.
For one, the study found that the restrictions needlessly hurt recruitment. So, too, the research concludes that the rules adversely affected “reputation, retention, unit cohesion, morale, medical care, and good order and discipline.”
What’s more, it all undermined trust within units, as more service members were forced to lie about or conceal their transgender identity. In contrast, countries around the world have integrated transgender people into military service without harming military preparedness.
Of course, it doesn’t make one an ignorant bigot to worry that a transgender person requiring medication or treatment might not be ready to deploy to the front lines at a moment’s notice. Yet the vast, vast majority of military jobs are not combat roles.
Others argue that “gender dysphoria” is a mental illness and that other mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety similarly are prohibitive for military enlistment. This, while true, ignores the fact that not all transgender people have gender dysphoria, not even close. According to the Wall Street Journal, “There are roughly 9,000 service members who identify as transgender but only 1,000 or fewer who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.”
Why does the distinction matter?
“Gender dysphoria” refers to people who feel acute distress because of the incongruity between their birth sex and gender-self-identification. However, if a transgender person transitions, receives treatment, and is no longer distressed, they do not have gender dysphoria. Narrow restrictions on combat roles or those currently experiencing acute gender dysphoria would be one thing, but that’s not what Trump’s rules did.
It’s important that the government treat people equally under the law and not arbitrarily discriminate between favored groups and disfavored groups. Conservatives should support this principle for all, lest it be turned against them, or religious people, when liberals control the government.
The military debate is a complicated issue. Liberals who paint the issue as a simple matter of black and white, the bigots versus the enlightened, do their cause an enormous disservice.
Conservatives who support the restrictions on transgender military service that Biden just revoked aren’t necessarily bigoted, ignorant, or hateful. But they are wrong.
Brad Polumbo (@Brad_Polumbo) is a Washington Examiner contributor.