Update: Wednesday morning, President Trump called for transgender people to be banned from military service. "After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow...Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military," Trump tweeted. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming...victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you."
Refinery29 talked to Nicole Perry, a transgender Marine veteran, about current efforts to keep transgender people out of the military. In response to Trump's comments, she said: "The costs have been studied along with the disruptions prior to your presidency. What makes them different now?"
This story was originally published on July 24, 2017.
Nicole Perry officially left the U.S. Marine Corps in 2014 because her physical fitness test scores were too low. But unofficially, she wanted to begin transitioning to a woman and knew she had to leave the Marines to do so.
In 2016, five years after the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was officially repealed and three years after Perry left the Marines, the Defense Department said transgender Americans serving in the military could finally be open about who they are. And this month, trans people were supposed to be allowed to enlist in the military, but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called for a six-month delay.
A June 30 statement from Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Dana W. White said the department would "review their accession plans and provide input on the impact to the readiness and lethality of our forces."
Perry, 28, talked to Refinery29 about the decision, saying that while the initial plan to let trans people enlist in the military was needed, it wasn't surprising to see it put on hold.
Conservative organizations and members of Congress pushed for the delay and called for the Obama administration's transgender military policy to be completely repealed. In just the past month, Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri has said allowing transgender Americans to enlist is "costly and a threat to our readiness," as well as called it a threat to national security on the same level as North Korea and ISIS.
"This is a full-scale effort to inflame the culture wars on the backs of loyal transgender troops," said Aaron Belkin, director of the independent research institute Palm Center, in a statement.
There are currently about 9,000 active duty transgender service members in all branches of the military. While Perry thinks the military still has a long way to go in terms of providing for the needs of trans service members and veterans and treating them with respect, she wants people who are already out as transgender to be allowed to enlist.
How did you feel when you heard transgender Americans would be allowed to enlist in the military?
"It actually did excite me, even though I wasn’t looking to go back... for the simple fact that when I was in and they were repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” ... I remember thinking, Yeah that’s great for the L, the G, and the B, but that doesn’t change anything for us who are T.
"When they started talking about [letting trans people enlist], I was like, They’re singing it, but are they actually going to go through with it? At the time, Obama was president, but I was still worried about it not being implemented because someone wasn’t going to like it and they would find some way to put it on hold."
What message do you think it sends that trans people can come out if they’re already in the military, but trans people who are already out can’t enlist?
"If we can figure it out for those who are already in, then we should be able to figure it out for those coming in."
What would you say to members of Congress who think allowing trans people to enlist will cost the military a ton of money?
"I was actually reading today that the military is facing inquiries about camouflage that was purchased... for the Afghan National Army. Most of Afghanistan is a desert, yet the camouflage that was bought was more for green areas.
[The New York Times reports that the U.S. spent about $28 million more than it had to on these uniforms.]
"You’re worried about trans people getting surgery, but yet that’s not a big deal?
"I’ve also heard from many others that if we let [trans people currently serving] have surgery, then it’s going to be a waste of money because they can’t deploy. There’s already many other reasons why service members can’t deploy that have nothing to do with being transgender."
What about people who claim allowing trans people to enlist is a threat to national security after the most well-known trans veteran, Chelsea Manning, was convicted of leaking classified documents?
"Even though I will respect Chelsea Manning’s name and pronouns, she actually screwed it over for a lot of us. Because of her leak and because she was mad at the Army… it makes it look like other trans people in the military, because they’re mad at the Army or whatever branch, they’re going to do the same thing even though that’s not the case."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.