Thursday, May 30, 2019

Transgender Rights are Human Rights

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 When DADT was finally repealed in 2011, allowing them to serve openly, study after study showed that LGB members have no impact on military readiness.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 ( 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.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Divided We Will Fall

Divided We Will Fall
(originally published in Tumbleweird May 2019)

by Ted Miller

My mother used to say “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.” 

Many of the people commenting on social media posts and online news articles seem to have missed that childhood lesson.

Every time I break my self-imposed rule to “never read the comments,” I see some of the most vile, hateful, divisive rhetoric spewed at fellow Americans and community members. What is it about the internet that makes people think that is acceptable behavior? Nobody that I interact with talks that way in person, to me or to anyone else. I know in my real-life conversations with others we often have significantly different opinions on a wide range of topics, but we don’t call each other names, yell obscenities, or accuse the other of being the enemy. So why is something we would never say to someone’s face acceptable language online?

We seem to have forgotten that we have more in common than not. Fifty years ago, Americans listened to the same news broadcasts, watched the same shows, and read the same newspapers. Our differing opinions about government, religion, and our place in the world didn’t overshadow our common experience. We shared a common set of facts and American values. Our political differences were about how government policy reflects our common values, not whether Democrats or Republicans were the enemy of the state.

The rise of talk radio, cable news, the internet, and social media changed all that. With the rapid expansion of choices in the media we consume, too many of us have moved to our own echo chambers, reinforcing our beliefs while becoming more and more skeptical of information that doesn’t fit our views. Social media algorithms continually feed us what we want to hear at the exclusion of a shared community experience. Misinformation, conspiracy, and divisive rhetoric spreads virally without regard to the facts. And our public discourse seems to have raced to the bottom of decency.

Watching this divisive rhetoric all over the news and social media today, I am struck at how deeply divided we are, and it is deeply disturbing. This divisive rhetoric has spread from talk radio and social media to the halls of Congress. We are no longer Americans fighting together for the future of our country. We are "us versus them," yelling at each other, convincing ourselves that the other is the enemy. It seems like the country is more divided today than at any time in living memory. 

Former CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin said something in an interview last month that really struck me. Reflecting on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, he was surprised at how vulnerable we were to foreign influence by the Russians. Starting in 2014, the Russian government has worked to use the rise of hyper-partisanship and media fueled polarization to weaken the unity that makes our country strong. Deputy Director McLaughlin said:

"But here's what I think they were successful in. They were successful in creating or exacerbating enormous partisan divisions in our country. Just think about it. The two parties are at each other's throats. The president is immobilized on a number of foreign policy issues. Even the media, to a degree, is polarized about this issue. And the United States looks pretty bad in the eyes of the world. I think the Russians actually succeeded well beyond what they imagined they could here. And that's the other big impression that comes out of this - is how fragile we were. We thought our democracy and our cohesiveness as a nation - I did - were stronger than they turned out to be in the face of this.[i]"

This downward spiral into divisiveness has been worsening for decades. The hyperbolic partisanship that continually paints the other political party as evil has gotten to the point that party power is more important than national unity. The Russians just took advantage of that and are continuing those efforts today.

Unless we change something, this divisiveness will be our undoing, either from within or by a foreign power. 

Maybe we can start by holding each other accountable, one conversation at a time. We can encourage our friends to be more respectful in their disagreements online, particularly when they are arguing with strangers. Other than the trolls and bots, social media accounts are real people with real friends and families. Those friends see what is being said online. We should each ask ourselves if we would tolerate the insults and hate if we were witnessing the conversation in person.

Maybe we should remind our friends, and ourselves, that the golden rule applies online as well as in person. If we can make it socially unacceptable to bully and spew hate online, maybe we can start to close the divide and focus more on what we have in common.

We are all in this together. As Abraham Lincoln said, “United we stand, divided we fall.” Let’s not divide ourselves. Let’s work together to make our political discourse more positive.

If you can’t comment in a nice and respectful manner, don’t comment at all.

[i]CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin, All Things Considered, National Public Radio, 4/18/2019