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Codifying Discrimination: Trump’s Anti-Transgender Policy

Negative impact of Trump’s policy banning transgender military personnel

Early this morning, President Trump announced a new policy banning transgender individuals from serving in the military. Sadly, this policy codifies discrimination and erodes fundamental civil and human rights. As his rationale, the President cited “tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Let’s be clear. Both rationales are political red herrings grounded in prejudice—the faulty belief that transgender individuals are somehow second-class citizens, unworthy of military service, and harmful to the safety of the United States.

According to the President, transgender personnel are responsible for “tremendous medical costs.” However, according to the Rand Report (Shaefer et al., 2016), the projected additional cost to the military is a “0.04 to 0.13 percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.” Such an increase is a footnote within the military budget. Truly, if the ban rationale were grounded in an expense argument, then this policy paves the way for other forms of discrimination based on health care costs—removing and prohibiting any individual from service to the military over the age of 40, gender discrimination, banning anyone from service who has a family, etc. Of course, such prohibitions based on age, gender, or family status would be inexplicable and counterproductive. Most importantly, at no time, should “expenses” be rationale for approving a discriminatory policy, which violates fundamental civil rights.

President Trump also argued that transgender personnel represent a disruptive force weakening the operational effectiveness of the U.S. military. Yet, again there is scant evidence for such a statement. According the Rand Report (Shaefer et al., 2016), “The limited research on the effects of foreign military policies indicates little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness. Commanders noted that the policies had benefits for all service members by creating a more inclusive and diverse force.” The notion that an inclusive military is less effective was used for decades to exclude, segregate, or compartmentalize the service of women, African-Americans and other racial/ethnic minorities, and lesbian women/gay men. When these discriminatory policies were overturned, the military did not collapse. Moreover, transgender individuals historically have and continue to make contributions with the U.S. military. Most noteworthy is the following: Prejudice is one of the greatest disruptive forces within the military. Sadly, the President's policy seeks to codify that prejudice through a policy of exclusion.

On a broader level, the President’s actions send a message to all citizens within the U.S. and abroad, that discrimination and prejudice against transgender and other gender-variant individuals are appropriate. Federal policies of discrimination fuel a culture of bias and intolerance. Such intolerance translates into social justice denied for transgender individuals impacting education, employment, health care, access to legal services, and other basic civil and human rights. Violence grounded in transphobia, as well as homophobia, represents a significant violation of human rights (Human Rights Council, 2011). Around the globe and within the U.S., transgender individuals are at particular risk for physical and sexual violence (Clements-Nolle, Marx, & Katz, 2006; Lombardi, Wilchins, Priessing, & Malouf, 2001; Testa, et al., 2012). Surveys have found that 43-60% of transgender respondents have been victims of physical violence (Kenagy & Bostwick, 2005; Lombardi et al.; Xavier, Bobbin, Singer, & Budd, 2005) with rates of 43-46% for sexual assault (Clements-Nolle et al., 2006; Kenagy & Bostwick, 2005; Xavier et al., 2005). The effects of oppression and violence on transgender individuals are extreme impacting physical, psychological, social and economic wellbeing (APA, 2008; Grant et al., 2011). The President has the responsibility to protect the citizens of the U.S.—all citizens regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, and a host of other diverse characteristics, inclusive of gender identity.

In 2008, the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives passed a resolution addressing Transgender, Gender Identity, & Gender Expression Non-Discrimination. The policy states that “APA opposes all public and private discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived gender identity and expression and urges the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies” and further that “APA supports the passage of laws and policies protecting the rights, legal benefits, and privileges of people of all gender identities and expressions.” I call upon APA to address the President, Congress, and the Courts to overturn this new unjust and discriminatory policy denying transgender individuals the right to serve their country through military service. I also urge all individuals with a concern for fundamental human rights to oppose this policy, and to speak out and actively engage in efforts to end discrimination and human rights violations against transgender and other gender variant individuals. We must never remain silent in the face of injustice and oppression.

Update: I want to thank the American Psychological Associations' quick response to President Trump's statement regarding banning transgender personnel in the military. The full text of the announcement, APA Questions Announcement to Bar Transgender People From US Military (July, 26, 2017) can be found at APA President An“The American Psychological Association questions the reasoning behind President Antonio E. Puente, PhD. states, "Trump’s call to bar transgender people from the military. We’ve seen no scientific evidence that allowing transgender people to serve in the armed forces has had an adverse impact on our military readiness or unit cohesion. Therefore, we ask that transgender individuals continue to be allowed to serve their country.”

Additionally, the leadership of the Society for Military Psychology (Division 19, APA, has issued the following statement:

Esteemed colleagues, Several days ago, President Trump issued a statement indicating that transgender individuals would no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S military, reversing a 2016 decision that allowed this group to serve openly. A study completed by the Rand Corporation provided a mid-range estimate that 2,450 transgender individuals currently serve on active duty, with an additional 1,510 in the reserves. This same study indicated that between 29 and 129 of those serving on active duty would seek out medical treatment for gender transition.

In 2003, the APA Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Military Service was established, composed of members of Divisions 19 and 44, the Society for the Psychological Study of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues. This task force recommended ending the ban, then in place against gays openly serving in the military, with Council quickly passing this recommendation as a resolution. Military psychologists within the Department of Defense (DoD) were very influential in the subsequent repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” with their research proving critical in informing policy makers. The senior author of the DoD Comprehensive Review Report was joined by several colleagues, all of whom were military psychologists and members of Division 19, in recommending to President Obama that the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military be lifted.

Patriotism and the call to service is not dictated by gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any of the multitude of demographics used to characterize others. One of the strengths of the military is to be found in its diversity, in the willingness of its members to serve, in the opportunity to work as a team to accomplish a common goal. As a part of that process, bridges are built and barriers are destroyed - as occurred when racial minorities and women were successfully integrated into the military - and we became stronger as a Nation. To prohibit a segment of Americans from service, regardless of the demographic used, serves to diminish us all.

Sally Harvey, PhD
DIV19 President and CoR

Mark Staal, PhD
DIV19 President-Elect

Ann Landes, PhD
DIV19 Past-President


American Psychological Association (2008). Transgender, gender identity, & gender expression non-discrimination. Retrieved from

Clements-Nolle, K., Marx, R., & Katz, M. (2006). Attempted suicide among transgender persons: The influence of gender-based discrimination and victimization. Journal of Homosexuality, 51, 53–69.

Grant, J. M., Mottet, L. A., Tanis, J., Harrison, J., Herman, J. L., & Keisling, M. (2011). Injustice at every turn: A report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Retrieved from

Human Rights Council (2010). Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. Retrieved from

Kenagy, G. P., & Bostwick, W. B. (2005). Health and social service needs of transgender people in Chicago. International Journal of Transgenderism, 8, 57–66.

Lombardi, E. L., Wilchins, R. A., Priessing, D., & Malouf, D. (2001). Gender violence: Transgender experiences with violence and discrimination. Journal of Homosexuality, 42, 89–101.

Schaefer, A. G., Iyengar, R., Kadyala, S., Kavanagh, J., Engel, C. C., Williams K. M., & Kress, A., (2016). Assessing the implications of allowing transgender personnel to serve openly. Retrieved from

Testa, R. J., Sciacca, L. M., Wang, F., Hendricks, M. L., Goldblum, P., Bradford, J., & Bongar, B. (2012, August 13). Effects of Violence on Transgender People. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029604

Xavier, J., Bobbin, M., Singer, B., & Budd, E. (2005). A needs assessment of transgendered people of color living in Washington, D. C. International Journal of Transgenderism, 8, 31– 47.