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The Impact Of Trump’s Decision On Transgender Military Members

Via compfight CC

President Trump Tweeted Wednesday morning that transgender people will again be barred from the U.S. military.

It’s unclear what this means for the thousands of transgender service members in the military today. The president’s press secretary said the White House and Department of Defense will have to work together to figure that out. The Pentagon had already delayed accepting transgender applicants into the military through at least January 2018.

Penn Baker is a Navy veteran from Cedar Crest who’s transgender. She spoke  about the impact of the president’s decision a year after the military announced that transgender people could serve openly. 

BAKER: My greatest sadness about what’s going on and what happened today is there were a lot of people who believed our government, and said, “OK, I can openly come out and be a transgender service member.” And with the news this morning, all those people’s military careers are in jeopardy.

KUNM: And no one today is really sure about whether this is direct order and takes effect immediately, or whether it’s just guidance for the Department of Defense. What do you think that uncertainty is like for people today?

BAKER: All the transgender people who are in the service today and who are veterans looking for services from the Veterans Administration, their whole world is in limbo. It’s a complete unknown. You know, it’s beyond my comprehension what’s going on in their minds right now. Do I have health care now as a veteran? Can I get into the service now that I’ve identified as transgender? Can I stay in the service now that I’ve identified as transgender? Don’t know.

That part right there truly affects the people who are in the military. It affects their military readiness because they’re in an unknown situation. Their personal life is in upheaval.

KUNM: Various groups estimate that there could be anywhere from 2,500 to 15,000 or 16,000 transgender people in the military. Do you think Trump’s announcement might also create a dangerous situation for them?

BAKER: Oh yeah. I mean, in the military we live by law and rule. That’s how we conducted ourselves. The people who are in there who are transgender now have to worry about backlash of a very small number of service members that already have a phobia. And now they’ve just been given a level of validation that it’s OK to be phobic about that.

And they’ll act on it.

KUNM: When you think about all the transgender people who applied to be in the military after the ban was lifted a year ago, what does this mean for them?

BAKER: More than likely if President Trump’s Tweet goes forward, and it becomes the law of the land, they won’t be able to get in the military, and because they’ve already identified, there will be no way for them to get into the military. I mean we’ve had transgender people serving in the military since the beginning of this nation. There’s documented stories of transgender women serving as men in the Continental Army at the beginning of our struggle to be a nation. And they’re there today. They’ll be there tomorrow.

KUNM: The president also says the military can’t be “burdened” with the “disruption” of transgender people in the military. As a veteran, what’s it like to hear something like that from the president?

BAKER: I did not serve in Vietnam. I served during Vietnam. And there’s an MIA flag out there. We don’t leave our people behind. We are leaving the transgender service member behind.

KUNM: What’s the one thing you want our listeners to know about transgender people in the military?

BAKER: We’re just like anybody else. I mean we serve our country. We walk our path with our country. We do what our commanders tell us to do. Most transgender people are overachievers. All we want to do is have the same rights—not more rights—and serve our country and serve it well.

To our transgender service members out there: We will keep up the fight until it’s OK for you to serve openly as you are. 

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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