Editor’s note: This column has been updated for clarity.
The Supreme Court paved the way Jan. 22 for President Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military to continue while lower courts debate the legality of the issue.
Trump’s policy was first announced in a series of tweets over the summer of 2017 saying “the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
Some Democrats protested this policy by bringing transgender people with military experience to Trump’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday night.
Yet despite the predictable outcry from anti-Trump activists, the ban on transgender military service is completely justified. Transgender people are too often unable to meet the proposed mental health standards of the military, making them unfit for service. Military service is in no way a right but rather a privilege granted to those who are qualified.
As commander in chief, it’s Trump’s duty to ensure the United States military is able to effectively pursue and protect the strategic interests of the United States. In order to do so, he cannot allow people who suffer from mental or physical health conditions to serve in the military.
Trump’s prohibition of transgender people in the military is not discriminatory because it’s not an issue exclusive to the transgender community, but one of the general population.
According to data obtained by Time in 2014, 71 percent of Americans between 17 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the military. The leading cause of disqualification stems from health problems, including mental health issues, which bars 32 percent from military service.
Transgender people fall within the category of those who are disqualified for health reasons because they suffer from gender dysphoria, a mental health condition defined as the mental distress one feels as a result of his or her biological sex and his or her chosen identity not aligning. They also commonly suffer from other mental health conditions such as depression and risk of suicide at disproportionately high rates.
Forty-one percent of transgender people surveyed attempted suicide at least once in their lives, according to a study done by the Williams Institute at the of University of California, Los Angeles Law School. This is an alarmingly high rate compared to that of the general population.
There were an estimated total of 1.4 million attempted suicides in the United States in 2017, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Though this number is in itself too large, it is less than half of 1 percent of the general U.S. population and minuscule compared to the 41 percent in the Williams Institute study.
A common misconception is that sex reassignment surgery can alleviate mental health issues. However, studies show the risk of suicide for transgender people remains far above that of the general population regardless of whether or not they choose to undergo surgery.
Although some may suggest lowering the requirements for military service to include transgender people in an effort to be more inclusive, this is not a realistic solution. The standards of the military must be high to ensure the safety of service members is not compromised by those unable to meet the bar.
America’s military does not need to be inclusive. America’s military needs to be the strongest fighting force in the world. It is neither a social experiment nor a platform for political change.
The health conditions that so frequently affect transgender people are their primary disqualifiers for military service. These risks are amplified when deployed to a combat zone, where their peers depend heavily on them for safety.
Trump’s policy is an adherence to the strict requirements that the military must follow, not discriminatory in any way. In order to maintain a strong military, he must ensure that there are no inherent risks with those who serve.
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