President Biden’s executive order yesterday ending the ban on transgender people serving in the military is not only a victory for the many trans people in uniform, but also for the children and families they support.
The premise of the executive order is very simple: “All Americans who are qualified to serve in the Armed Forces of the United States should be able to serve.” Biden added, “The All-Volunteer Force thrives when it is composed of diverse Americans who can meet the rigorous standards for military service, and an inclusive military strengthens our national security.”
For the more than 15,000 transgender people currently serving, that’s an acknowledgment of equality. For those who are parents, it means they do not have to fear losing their jobs and being unable to feed and house their children. The U.S. military is the country’s largest employer of transgender people, according to the 2018 documentary TransMilitary. The unemployment rate for trans people is three times higher than the national average, and over one quarter (27 percent) of trans people who held or applied for a job reported being fired, not hired, or denied a promotion due to their gender identity, per the National Center for Transgender Equality‘s latest U.S. Transgender Survey. (The survey covers 2016-17, but I can’t imagine the number improved during the last four years.)
As Deborah Peace said in Transmilitary about her spouse Jennifer Peace, a captain in the U.S. Army and a trans woman, “She was the breadwinner of the family.” The Peaces have three children.
The removal of the ban will also, I imagine, positively impact service members and their spouses who are not trans themselves, but are raising transgender or gender-creative children. Consider: The Department of Defense Child Development Virtual Lab School (VLS), an online professional development system for the 33,000 child- and youth-care professionals working with children of military families on bases around the world, in 2018 launched a course on “Creating Gender Safe Spaces.” Sarah Lang, associate director of research and professional development at VLS, told me in an interview, “Part of the reason we developed this course was that people working in military childcare saw gender-expansive kids and reached out to us. We want to be supportive of children and families with gender-expansive or LGBT members, and to arm staff with tools to navigate conversations with other families.” Clearly, then, there were enough of these families that such a program was worth creating. Yet children are less likely to thrive in an environment that condemns their identities. Transgender people serving openly (and perhaps occasionally visiting on-base classrooms) may give these children important role models.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has also clarified that the new policy applies not only to transgender people currently serving, but also to those wishing to enlist. He noted, too:
The United States Armed Forces are in the business of defending our fellow citizens from our enemies, foreign and domestic. I believe we accomplish that mission more effectively when we represent all our fellow citizens. I also believe we should avail ourselves of the best possible talent in our population, regardless of gender identity. We would be rendering ourselves less fit to the task if we excluded from our ranks people who meet our standards and who have the skills and the devotion to serve in uniform.
This is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing to do.
As we move forward, however, let us not forget how we got here. TransMilitary, which profiles not only the Peace family, but also several other transgender service members, is available on several of the major streaming services. I encourage you to watch. It’s a reminder that not only did transgender service members and their families feel the negative impact of the ban, but that many put their careers on the line by sharing their stories and speaking out against it. It is in large part because of their efforts, along with research (and more research) and the work of many other advocates, that Biden put pen to paper and signed yesterday’s order, affirming transgender people’s right to serve their country on equal terms.
If reading’s more your thing, check out the 2019 NPR profile of U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bree “B” Fram, her spouse Peg, and their two kids; this piece by Alli Alexander, an Army veteran, mother, and now military spouse, about her husband’s transition while in the Army; or this InStyle profile of Capt. Peace.
This executive order is personal for me—I have a friend who is a transgender man, a parent, and a serving member of the Armed Forces. I’m delighted for him and his family, and for all transgender service members. Thanks to them for their service to us all.