Pres. Trump’s tweet barring transgendered persons from serving in the military caught everyone off guard, including policy makers who are still trying to figure out exactly what it means. As we navigate the minefields of this highly charged issue there’s middle ground that nearly everyone can agree on: policy by tweet is no way to run a government.
Kentucky National Guardsman Capt. Jake Eleazer, who has served openly as a transgender female, read the 60 words tweeted by Pres. Trump and said “I’ve been very stressed out. I think I was just fired via tweet.” That would make a terrible start to anyone’s morning.
I had a chance to debate Eleazer on public radio and found myself agreeing with him and two other transgender activists on the point that tweets aren’t the proper way to institute major policy changes. We all expect the president to do things through proper channels and procedures. But if the Commander in Chief should have limits and expectations as to properly rolling out policy, shouldn’t military service members abide by limits regarding expectations placed upon them while enlisted?
We have a new president with a different policy, or at least a different idea of what is best for the military. This is an about-face from Pres. Obama’s policies. But the question is: are we willing to accept that? Based on my debate on The Eastern Standard Public Radio program and other public forums I’ve recently participated in, I’m not certain.
A common thread runs through each of the discussions: Special interest groups disagreeing with the LGBT agenda are politically motivated and shouldn’t have a voice in the debate. The real problem is mostly with people who disagree with transgenderism. And holding Christian ethics on sex boundaries violates the separation of church and state.
It was fascinating that the debate centered on the personal stories of the transgendered participants. Discrimination, although never defined, cast a long shadow over the program. Little time was spent on tackling substantive questions. If there was ever a time to put the Q back into the conversation, it has to be now.
In order to arrive at an answer of whether transgenderism is compatible with military service, we must first ask if gender transitioning is something that human beings should be doing? Does it promote biological and psychological health?
We must also revisit the question of what is the purpose and mission of our armed forces? What physical and psychological limitations should prevent individuals from serving? Are some forms of discrimination by the military now out of bounds?
A question during the program that underscored our cultural moment was “can you really know what male and female is?” Transgender activist Tuesday Meadows denied that gender is truly knowable and asked if I was playing God by determining gender. I wasn’t able to respond but the host suggested that my arguments were tinged with religious presuppositions, even though I didn’t mention God or religion up to that point.
It may shock opponents, but I can respect the humanity of someone I disagree with. I can affirm their dignity. This is possible precisely because of my religious beliefs that tell me that every human being has inherent dignity and deserves respect because they are image-bearers of God.
Tuesday and I have met and talked in person. I don’t intend a personal attack. We disagree on an issue. I don’t disagree on Tuesday’s humanity. I don’t disagree with his right to fair treatment and the right to be respected in the public arena. But I’m afraid we’re nearing a day when mere disagreement is tantamount to bigotry and will result in marginalization.
If policy changes are going to be accepted, public input and open debate is necessary. Which brings us back to how this conversation got started in the first place—three impulsive tweets intended to will something into law. In fairness to both sides, shouldn’t there be similar concerns over impulses that cut short meaningful discussion?
Richard Nelson is the Executive Director of the Commonwealth Policy Center. He and his family reside in Cadiz.