Over the last few years, this country has made great advances toward LGBTQ equality. Sadly, as is the case with most social justice struggles, gains are often met with backlash that pulls us in the opposite direction. An entire segment of American citizens are now facing a stark reality that they may no longer be allowed to voluntarily serve, and quite possibly die for, their country.
While you contemplate restricting transgender individuals from joining or continuing their service in the military, I’d caution you to not lose sight of larger implications to this decision. Primarily, you should understand the splash and ripple effect of the discriminatory policy that drives LGBTQ kids to suicide or self-harm.
When the executive order was announced, my thoughts went to the first two transgender cadets graduating from West Point last May. At that time, these incredibly talented, driven, and disciplined individuals would not be allowed to serve with their peers until the policy around transgender recruits was implemented later this year. Now the commission and future acceptance for each of them are uncertain.
These young adults, who sacrificed so much because they wanted to serve their country, are watching that opportunity be arbitrarily taken away. All the work, the hopes, the promising futures, all gone with the swipe of a pen. And what of their peers or those for whom they were an inspiration? Also gone. Replaced by a void that echoes what is communicated to transgender and gender variant people from so many aspects of our society….you have no place here.
Policies that marginalize and further perpetuate stigma create risk for transgender individuals. When we talk about the exhaustingly higher rates of negative outcomes for gender and sexual minorities, the influence of socially condoned bullying needs to be included in that discussion.
Officials at all levels of government have hotly debated legislation defining how, when, and where trans people can go to the bathroom. Think about that for a minute. There have been countless debates and public discussions about where an entire segment of the population can perform the most basic of human functions.
In reality, transgender people are at significantly higher risk of being victimized in the same culture that promotes them as a threat to other people’s safety.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed the self-reported frequency of adolescents engaging in activities with negative health impact. The activities varied in degrees, ranging from riding in cars without a seatbelt to using substances (drugs and alcohol). The intent of this study was to assess the rate of these behaviors when compared across sexual identities. In category after category, the reported instances of engaging in activities that contributed to a higher risk of negative health outcomes were increased for gender and sexual minorities in comparison to their straight peers (CDC, 2016).
Conversely, policy that promotes equality and puts the rights of LGBTQ people on par with their straight, cisgender peers has a positive influence on queer youth. The Journal of the American Medicine Association (JAMA) released a study earlier this year indicating that states with early adoption of same-sex marriages experienced a decrease in the number of suicide attempts among LGBTQ youth (JAMA, 2016). Although this study is preliminary, the influence of social recognition at a policy level matters for the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth.
Secretary Mattis, if you won’t reject the ban because it’s the right thing to do, then consider how this will impact recruitment and enlistment efforts over the coming years. Banning transgender people not only eliminates a segment of the population from protecting our country, it also deters their equally talented and driven allies.
Those brilliant young adults graduating from Harvard, MIT, and other universities across the country? They’ve been using personal pronouns and viewing gender as a spectrum for years. These talented youth grew up in an environment of inclusion with gay-straight alliances in their middle and high schools. If they don’t identify as queer, they have plenty of friends and relatives who do.
Here’s the kicker – they don’t need you, you need them. Organizations that turn a blind eye to discrimination and homophobic policies are experiencing a drain of talent from new graduates. Given the choice, why would this generation of young adults sign up to serve a country that excludes their peers simply on the basis of gender identity?
Like any large organization, if the military wants to attract and retain top talent, arbitrary discrimination will not work. Diversity, innovation, passion…these are not just corporate buzzwords. They are the same skills necessary to maintain a leadership position as honor, respect, and commitment to duty.
Policy matters. Do the right thing.
Centers for Disease and Control Prevention – Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/results.htm
The Journal of the American Medicine Association: Difference-in-Differences Analysis of the Association Between State Same-Sex Marriage Policies and Adolescent Suicide Attempts
This post was originally published on the author’s blog on Medium and is republished here with the author’s permission.
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