Americans, including top military and intelligence officials, awoke Wednesday to unexpected news: In a series of early morning tweets, President Donald Trump, who had once pledged to “fight” for the LGBT community, revealed new plans to ban transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military. In the days since the president’s announcement, a long list of veterans, politicians, activists, and religious leaders has decried the White House’s apparent newest policy. It is also turns out that Trump’s claim that the policy is based on recommendations of the military may be an outright lie.
But what we can count on with Trump is his knack for tapping into the national mood. His targeting transgender service members is indeed the latest sign of a growing distinction of American attitudes toward the LGBT community. Not all letters of an acronym, it seems, are created equal (or equally unequal...)
In the United States and elsewhere in the West, the advancement of rights for “LGB” (lesbian, gay, bisexual) has outpaced equal treatment for those of the last letter in the acronym, T, for transgender. (Some also refer to LGBTQ for "queer" to encompass all minority sexual and gender identities) According to a 2013 Pew Global survey, most Western societies are now overwhelmingly accepting of homosexuality. Yet the same cannot be said about attitudes toward transgenderism, those whose gender identity differs from their assigned sex. The ongoing battle in the U.S. over access to public bathrooms for transgender people has been the most notable example.
Trump’s vague assertions of medical costs to justify the transgender military ban can’t hide that “it’s fearmongering, plain and simple,” writes Steven Petrow in The Washington Post.
The cobbled alliance is precarious.
The broader trend of differential treatment of homosexuals and transgender people plays out across the globe — albeit in surprisingly different ways. Gays, lesbians, and bisexuals do not always enjoy more privileges than transgender individuals. While Iran has executed dozens of gay men since the 1979 revolution, the Islamic government not only allows for gender reassignment surgery but also finances the procedure. In fact, Iran is among the countries that perform the most gender reassignment surgeries annually. India and Pakistan, too, criminalize homosexuality but afford so-called “third gender” individuals legal protections. As the Pakistani daily Dawn recently reported, Islamabad recently issued its first “third gender” passport.
To be sure, the different treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people plays out within the LGBT community as well. This cobbled alliance of gender and sexual identities is precarious, as comically explained by the cast of the American sitcom Modern Family. Still, in spite of their differences, these communities have fought side-by-side for decades — from Stonewall through the AIDS epidemic and now into the Trump years. Yet we also know that the fight transcends national borders and cultural perceptions, and is ultimately united in a principle that goes beyond LGBT rights: It’s called Human Rights.