A soldier’s effectiveness — not identity — is what matters.
On Aug. 25, President Trump signed a memo banning transgender people from enlisting in the military. He justified his decision by citing concerns about military effectiveness, the disruption of unit cohesion and the cost of medical treatment. Yes, it is step backward in terms of civil rights, as LGBTQ activists have pointed out. But both transgender veterans and military leaders have challenged Trump’s rationale for different reasons: It obscures the reality of military service.
Trump’s policy reveals a troubling disconnect between the commander in chief and the experiences of the troops who serve under him. In combat, troops’ lives depend on the actions of their comrades. Whether that person is black, female, gay or transgender does not matter so long as he or she is a good soldier.
Since World War II, the military has succeeded in part because of its ability to prioritize merit over social assumptions about racial inferiority or sexual deviance. And these changing outlooks came not from military or political leaders — they came from the battlefield experiences of enlisted personnel. By arguing that military success depends on performance rather than racial or sexual identity, ordinary soldiers have tipped the balance in favor of integration and equality.
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