Where transgender folk are generally accepted
Dispatches from the south
One of the stranger things about the United States is that the U.S. Army has often been the leading edge of social change. Here are some examples:
While black people served in the very earliest armies in the States, and have served in every army since, they were frequently treated like second-class citizens – just as they were in the rest of society. That all changed in 1948 when President Harry Truman issued an executive order requiring immediate and total integration of the armed forces. The armed forces became one of the few places that black folks could find a good career, fair advancement, and for the first time, be free from official discrimination.
Another time, General Eisenhower wanted to “ferret out” all the lesbians in the Women’s Army Corps in 1947. When he issued the order, his decorated driver, Johnnie Phelps, said, “If the General pleases, sir, I'll be happy to do that, but the first name on the list will be mine.” His secretary piped up, "If the General pleases, sir, my name will be first and hers will be second." The witch hunt proceeded no further.
In 1967, the rules changed to require Army women to be promoted just the same as men, years before civilian women got similar protections.
So it’s not surprising that the Army is moving ahead of the civilian world on treating transgender people with dignity as well. Mostly, it’s simply stepping out ahead of the inevitable, wisely getting extra credit for that which it would have to do in a decade or two by court order.
We have strong protections against sex discrimination in the law, and courts are rapidly finding a consensus that those protections also cover same-sex attraction and people who suffer from gender dysphoria; feeling like one is assigned to the wrong sex. Following this same legal path, President Obama’s position evolved and he officially ended discrimination against transfolk in the military in 2016.
President Trump, on the other hand, campaigned on gay rights and then, upon taking office, quickly executive-tweeted an order banning all transfolk from military service. Such seemingly random policy reversals have since become a hallmark of his administration, although they are usually well-timed to – just coincidentally – immediately follow a bad news day.
And in a very strange turn of events, the generals totally ignored him.
Which is entirely unconstitutional. Probably. On the one hand, soldiers have an obligation to disobey illegal orders. On the other, it’s horrifying to have military generals ignoring their civilian commander-in-chief without a clear and well-established consensus from the courts, which is only beginning to come together.
This constitutional crisis seemed likely to lead to Trump firing a bunch of generals, except somehow no one got fired. It’s as if the President of the United States was playing games with peoples’ lives, but didn’t much care about the outcome. The fight was the thing.
Seven, count 'em, seven, courts found the ban illegal within a few weeks.
Thing is, changes in government policy that have the potential to hurt people have to be accompanied by a convincing reason why the change is necessary. So a year later, Trump tried again, this time having learned a little bit about how the government actually runs. The order looked more like a normal order, rather than a rage-tweet.
Again, Trump’s effort was struck down by several courts. This time, no court was striking down the order on procedural grounds. All the findings were about unnecessary discrimination.
That word, “unnecessary,” is important. It is legal in the U.S. to discriminate against, say, women or black people or transfolk if there is a good reason. But the burden lies on the government to prove there is good reason. The problem is that there is rarely a good one.
The Trump administration has fallen so far short of showing there was a good reason that they haven’t won a single victory in court, not even a tie, and boy, did they try. Turns out all the gender experts, all the legal experts, and all the generals agree. Transfolks are folks just like us.