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OPINION: Calling the trans military debate “overblown” is a luxury actual trans people can’t afford

A. Barton Hinkle's editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch unfairly dismisses what are legitimate concerns for the LGBTQ community.

Marilyn Drew Necci | August 31, 2017

I suppose I can’t be too surprised when confronted with a headline like “The transgender debate is overblown,” as I was when I saw A. Barton Hinkle’s column for the Richmond Times-Dispatch last Saturday. However, it’s always a little disappointing to see the mainstream world’s attitude, which typically rates transgender people like myself second-class citizens and our concerns of secondary importance (at best), confirmed in headlines from the city’s biggest publication.

Hinkle’s main point in the article is that LGBTQ issues that were contentious in years past eventually resolved in the LGBTQ community’s favor, and that we therefore shouldn’t worry about the current transgender military ban. “Transgender individuals serve in the military now,” Hinkle points out toward the end of his article. “And they almost certainly will continue to do so — either because Trump’s directive will be overturned in court, or because it will be reversed by a future administration.”

This is an easy thing to say when you are someone who is able to observe the issue from an outside perspective. Hinkle, a (presumably) cis man not currently serving in the military, has no stake in this discussion. Whether Trump’s directive is overturned in court next month or lasts until some future administration eight (or 12, or 16, who knows) years in the future, it will not affect his life in any significant way. This is hardly the case for the trans woman currently on active duty with the US armed forces whom we spoke to last week. She called her current situation “a really big waiting game,” and told us she’d heard nothing reassuring from anyone in command. “The only thing has been said is, ‘Until we know anything or have anything to go off of, don’t worry.’ Easier said than done when your commander in chief pretty much fired you over twitter.”

And while Hinkle mentioned that, indeed, trans troops are still serving openly in the military now, what he didn’t mention was that the Department Of Defense only has a six-month window to prepare the implementation of the Trump administration’s new policy. After that deadline passes, DoD will indeed be required to begin removal of transgender troops as their current enlistment contracts expire (a process that will take a year or two at most). In fact, we had this information in a GayRVA post on the subject fully two days before Hinkle’s column was published, so it isn’t as if he couldn’t have known this (though clearly a lot of people in the media have had trouble understanding the substance of recent developments with this story).

So what happens to the trans soldier who spoke to us last week if we do indeed end up needing some “future administration” to reverse this ban? For starters, she’ll be discharged from service by the end of 2018. And as she told us last week, “To be discharged and having to explain that to every job I apply for, pretty much outing myself, is not something I will look forward to.” Hinkle expressed an issue with “the wholesale discharge of people serving their country with dedication and honor,” and as it turns out, this is exactly what will happen.

So is the transgender military debate really overblown, when the very thing the speaker doesn’t want to happen is the very thing that will happen if things continue on their current course? I’ll go out on a limb here and say it’s not, that it’s very much a pressing concern for transgender troops, the wider LGBTQ community, and anyone who cares about the fundamental strength and readiness of our military, which make no mistake, will be impacted significantly if Trump’s policy reversal goes through.

Really, it seems to me that Hinkle is preaching gradualism here. At one point in his article he says things like “Did the Obama administration act too precipitously when it ordered the services to start recruiting transgender individuals by July of this year? Yes,” and “Does the issue raise difficult questions about barracks life, long-term deployment, and other facets of service unique to the armed forces? It certainly does — and military leaders need time to think them through with deliberation and care.”

Not to go there, but–Martin Luther King had some words about gradualism in his legendary “I Have A Dream” speech. “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check – a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”

Martin Luther King was defending a different marginalized group of Americans in this speech, but his words have relevance here. Now is indeed the time to fight for the gains we have made in this issue, the gains which Trump’s new policy threatens to strip away. Now is the time to defend transgender soldiers who have only a few months to secure their positions within the military–positions that Hinkle seemed to think weren’t under any present threat. If it isn’t taken care of now, the cost to both the military and to the overall rights of transgender people will be much greater. The time it will take to wait for some hypothetical future administration to extend their benevolence to the likes of us is not time any of us can afford. Hinkle’s conclusion that “within a few years everyone will wonder what all the fuss was about” will only be true if we continue to fight for the rights of transgender troops now.

Photo by Mari Cordes, from DC Stop Transgender Military Ban Protest, July 29, 2017.