Opinion Column


Transgender soldiers under 'friendly fire' from Donald Trump

By Garth Mullins, The Duel

Soldiers from the 3rd Canadian Division in Edmonton depart for a six month deployment to Ukraine on Aug. 3, 2016. (Shaughn Butts/Postmedia Network/Files)

Soldiers from the 3rd Canadian Division in Edmonton depart for a six month deployment to Ukraine on Aug. 3, 2016. (Shaughn Butts/Postmedia Network/Files)

This week's question: Should transgender people be allowed to serve in the Canadian military?

Last week Donald Trump tried to ban transgender people from the American Armed Forces. Trans soldiers have been in practically every American war. But Trump is part of a long military tradition that has seen racial segregation and women and LGBT people excluded.

Last Wednesday, Trump tweeted: “The United States Government will not accept or allow ... transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”

Poverty is a big recruiter for the army and trans people are twice as likely to be poor as the general population. If Trump gets his way, more than 15,000 trans military personnel could lose their jobs.

"I felt like I had just gotten fired via tweet," said Staff Sgt. Patricia King, who’s served 18 years and did three tours of duty. Veteran Carla Lewis was blunt: “I fought for your right to hate me.”

Military top brass clarified that trans people can still serve – until formal direction is received to the contrary. The army marches on orders, not tweets. This confusion is probably why Sun Tzu never recommended making major strategic decisions 140 characters at a time on Twitter.

Such messages from high office empower the far right and spark new waves of attacks on trans people – already one of the groups most targeted by hate crimes.

While Canadian Forces tweeted in response: “We welcome Canadians of all sexual orientations and gender identities,” Canada is not immune from that backlash.

Trump is trying to reverse Obama’s 2016 decision allowing trans people in the military. Will Trump also repeal and replace the 1948 Women's Armed Service Integration Act? Or Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981 ending racial segregation in the military?

Bogus arguments about extra costs, troop morale and fighting readiness have always been used to justify exclusion and segregation.

The fluidity of gender expression in combat is as old as war. Women like Anna Maria Lane dressed as men and fought in the American Revolution. More than 400 women did the same in the Civil War. Canadian Sarah Edmonds enlisted in the Union army under the alias Franklin Thompson. A World War II vet said she hid her identity in combat and knows soldiers who did the same in Korea and Vietnam. Many continued their war identities in civilian life.

Over the years, the U.S. has touched off a lot of wars. And Trump looks set to start a bunch more. Draft-dodging Donald should reassess. He’s going to need all the troops he can get.

Garth Mullins is a broadcaster, activist, writer, musician and trade unionist. He’s at www.garthmullins.com or @garthmullins.