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  • Julio Olivencia

Bigotry Against Trans Troops Diminishes Military Readiness

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

By Julio Olivencia

March 31, 2021

I can recall when the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell took effect in 2011. I was a young Airman and I remember the excitement and relief that came with allowing lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to finally serve openly in the military. But I also remember the backlash in the ranks–the complaints among other Airmen that it wouldn’t work, that it went against their own religious beliefs, that the military wasn’t a social experiment and so on. I had a supervisor that went on a long tirade the day he found out we all had to take computer-based training about the repeal. His argument was that the military was violating his Catholic beliefs. It was painfully obvious there was no changing his mind. The military he joined 20 years prior was not the military he currently found himself in, and I suppose that may have scared or angered him. This made it clear that while serving openly in the military was allowed as a policy, it was harder for some troops in a practical sense. The prejudices of people in charge could manifest in different ways from making you feel uncomfortable to having lasting effects on your career.

Ten years later, I see a similar backlash occurring today now that the military’s ban on transgender individuals has come to a rightful end. President Biden ended the ban, which was announced by President Trump via a series of Tweets, on Jan. 25. While I’m no longer in the Air Force, I stay connected to that world through social media and I have been disappointed at the reaction of some in the veteran community. Every time an article about transgender troops pops up on my social media feeds there are invariably comments from those who served and some from those still serving spewing hatred toward the transgender community. The most appalling are the comments from those still serving as they can have real, lasting, and immediate effects on the lives and careers of others.

Last month, Maj. Andrew Calvert, an Army chaplain, found himself in hot water when he made disparaging remarks against the transgender community and the repeal of the ban. Like Trump, he took to social media to reach audiences, operating in a space that is arguably outside the line of duty. Military chaplains occupy a unique role, serving as clergy and officers. Their responsibilities blend religious leadership with the secular duty, and they are expected to be a resource of wellbeing and stability for all troops. Calvert’s public denouncement of fellow service members degrades trust in the ranks and negatively affects military readiness. In response, the Army did what it loves to do, it launched an investigation. Regardless of the outcome of Major Calvert’s case, there needs to be a clear indication from leadership across the armed forces that the new policy enhances military readiness and that discriminatory remarks against future and current service members will not be tolerated.

Leadership needs to take a hard-lined approach here because this is not a hypothetical. Transgender troops have and continue to serve honorably in the military. Espousing discriminatory views in uniform cannot be overlooked, there needs to be accountability. Just as we would expect the services to stamp out racist actions and words from service members, we must demand the same for discriminatory actions and words against transgender folks. Leadership should make it clear that transgender service members are welcome in the military, that they are already part of the military community, and they should put policies in place that ensure they receive the respect they deserve from fellow service members both in the course of their duty, and also on social media. If a service member has a problem with this, it may be time for them to separate or retire because the military they wish to serve in no longer exists. There is no room in the ranks for bigotry and it's high time leadership makes that extremely apparent.

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