Transgender Rights are Human Rights
(originally published in Tumbleweird June 2019)
by Ted Miller
In my thirty years as an officer in the United States Navy, being gay was cause for a “less than honorable” discharge. What that meant was that a shipmate could be formally labeled as undesirable and forced out of the military just for being themselves, denying them veterans benefits and the equal treatment afforded their straight peers. Their military skills, fitness reports, or length of service didn’t matter.
Military members are citizen soldiers, reflecting the diversity of race, sexuality, gender, and religion in our nation. There have always been gay members of the military. I knew some when I served. But until recently, some service members had to hide their true selves in order to serve. Not only were they willing to sacrifice their lives for their country, they had to sacrifice a piece of themselves while serving.
In 1993, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” allowed gay, lesbian, and bisexual (LGB) people to serve only if they kept their orientation secret. When DADT was finally repealed in 2011, allowing them to serve openly, study after study showed that LGB members have no impact on military readiness.
Openly transgender people were finally allowed to serve beginning in 2016. But the Trump administration started working to reverse that in July 2017, just as the new policy was to take full effect. Last month, the Supreme Court allowed this renewed transgender ban to take effect while challenges work their way through the courts.
This is not a readiness issue. There have been no issues from allowing openly transgender people to serve their country. The only purpose for this ban is to deny the fair and equal treatment of transgender individuals, to formally state through government policy that their value is not the same as their cis-gendered colleagues.
Charlotte Clymer, a transgender Army veteran, said in a CBS opinion piece April 7, 2019:
“The lies perpetuated about transgender people serving in the military have been thoroughly debunked and rejected, by medical experts, by budget analysts, by military generals and admirals, by the vast majority of the American people, and not least by a history of Americans who have been barred from service and proved bigots wrong.
“They barred men of color. They barred women. They barred gay, lesbian and bisexual people. We have been at this intersection of fear, cynicism, and outright ignorance many times, and we are always reminded that the only true threats to our country's strength are hatred and an absence of character.”
Denying the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals is an attempt to deny their full humanity. Labeling sexuality or gender identity as something that doesn’t conform to a narrow view of the human expression of gender and sexual orientation is an attempt to erase their existence.
The National Center for Transgender Equality (transequality.org) says there are about 1.4 million transgender adults in the United States. Just like sexual orientation, the overwhelming consensus in the medical community is that gender identity is not a choice. And from the experiences of my transgender loved ones, I know this to be true. They each struggled from an early age to understand who they were, why they felt different, and how to express their self-identities. Their struggle was made tragically worse by family and society who constantly told them that what they were feeling was wrong, that who they were was unacceptable. Whatever the motivation, constant rejection of gender identity inevitably leads to self-doubt, self-hate, and self-harm, all too often leading to suicide.
We have an administration that wants to allow LGBT discrimination in the name of religious freedom. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a new regulation that would allow medical providers to cite their “deeply held beliefs” as a basis to refuse service to LGBT individuals—in other words, to deny equal treatment under the law, to deny equal rights, to deny equal humanity.
For transgender individuals, allowing health care discrimination only makes the health problems they face worse. Studies published by Lambda Legal show that 56 percent of LGB and 70 percent of transgender individuals already face healthcare discrimination. Many avoid seeing a doctor when they need it most because of a fear of rejection or mistreatment.
Every human being is worthy of love and acceptance. In a self-governing nation, the government should ensure equal treatment and protection of all. That includes those whose gender may be different than what we assume based on physical characteristics.
Forcing people into a narrow box of gender identity is harmful to them and to a society that is richer for its diversity.
Human rights apply to everyone. Transgender rights are human rights.