Pierce College students reject White House policy on transgender service members

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Alyssa Wilkins and Candee Bell / Staff Photo Illustration

Military transgender ban awaits Maryland judge’s decision

In the military, an individual’s background is irrelevant. Everyone is a service member, with the only expectation being service for country. Be it on the frontlines or behind a desk, the military values anyone with both the motivation to work and the drive to help their country.

For some, the military presents a way out or a fresh start, an avenue of escaping a troubled home or a difficult past. However, for transgender people, this is not an option.  With the recent proposed ban on transgender service members, military service may be completely out of reach.

The Pentagon released a memo last February, stating there were “substantial risks” to allowing transgender people into the military. The White House would later come forth with a policy to ban transgender service members from the military.

The new ban faced numerous injunctions, or authoritative warning, as it circulated through the lower courts of the legislative system and had been on hold.

I don’t think it’s a ‘liberal’ take or a ‘democrat’ take to say that a president who doesn’t value all human life is garbage.”

— Isaac Morgan Pennoyer

In January, the Supreme Court voted to remove most of the injunctions blocking the ban. Currently, a Maryland judge’s decision will determine whether the new policy will go into effect, according to the U.S Department of Defense’s Jan. 22 press release.

Members of Pierce College Fort Steilacoom’s Queer Support Club voiced their opposition to joining the military given the ban on transgender service members in the military.

Club president Isaac Morgan Pennoyer, concurred with them, stating that he had decidedly kept away from joining the military after three of his aunts had suffered severe mental  and physical trauma while serving.

Pennoyer also said the ban impacted his opinion of the government in a negative way.  “I don’t think it’s a ‘liberal’ take or a ‘democrat’ take to say that a president who doesn’t value all human life is garbage.”

Prior to 2016, it was illegal for transgender people to serve in the military. President Barack Obama worked to change that and succeeded, despite strenuous opposition. In July 2017, President Donald Trump went against this in a tweet. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory…and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” he stated.

Trump put out a revised version of the ban, which would allow people who were serving as openly transgender before the Pentagon memo’s release to continue.

I think there shouldn’t be a ban. There needs to be stipulations.”

— K. H., Army veteran attending Pierce College Fort Steilacoom

Previously, the military’s policy towards transgender and other members of the LGBT community was “Don’t ask; don’t tell.” In other words, transgender soldiers would be treated the same as everyone else so long as they appeared to conform to their gender identity. However, if a service member was revealed to be transgender, their superiors would deal with it as they saw fit, typically resulting in discharge.

Marco Aguirre, an Army veteran currently attending Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, spoke about the climate around transgender people in the U.S. military. He stated that he believed much of the military still harbored anti-transgender beliefs. However, he also expressed that treatment of transgender service members had certainly improved since when he first joined, and that they were still making strides when he had left the military.

Another Army veteran attending Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, going by the initials “K.H.”, stated transgender service members should be medically cleared before deploying to avoid complications during active duty.

“I think there shouldn’t be a ban. There needs to be stipulations,” he said drawing on both personal experience and educational training they had received from the military in 2017 about transgender service members.

Contrasting with Aguirre, K.H. stated that he believed most of the military to be rather accepting of transgender service members.

According to RAND Corporation’s 2016 findings, there are between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender service members serving in active duty.  This does not account for transgender personnel in the military who are not open to sharing information about their sexuality.