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Transgender Students, ROTC Cadets React to Transgender Military Ban

Christopher Hacker | The PHOENIXA group of ROTC cadets raise an American flag in a Veterans Day ceremony in November 2016. Some members of the ROTC program and many LGBTQ+ activists were surprised by Trump’s decision to ban transgender service members from the military.

Cell phone and laptop screens lit up on the morning of July 26 with a tweet from President Donald Trump regarding transgender individuals serving in the military. This statement announced that transgender citizens would be banned from serving “in any capacity,” because they cause “tremendous medical costs and disruption.”

This unexpected policy change drew a range of reactions from politicians, citizens and members of the Loyola community.

Sophomore Adrian Sibaja had hoped to to follow in the footsteps of his family members and join the armed forces. But with the impending transgender ban, these plans have become uncertain. Sibaja is a transgender man and is involved in Loyola’s Q-Initiatives (Queer Initiatives), which are programs and spaces designed for students identified as LGBTQ+.

Sibaja described the ban as disappointing rather than surprising. He noted it as a large blow to the rights of trans individuals. Now that he may be unable to join the armed forces, Sibaja feels that one of his only options will be to take out an excess of student loans to pay off his undergraduate and medical school tuition bills as a result of the lack of scholarship availability specifically for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

A month after his initial series of tweets, Trump formalized the transgender ban and gave the Pentagon guidelines for its implementation. Now the Department of Defense, under James Mattis, has six months to strategize and implement a plan concerning openly transgender military personnel who are currently serving.

One group at Loyola responding to the transgender ban is the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program and its senior cadets. ROTC students undergo basic military training and routine drillswhile completing the academic requirements for their majors.

Among the Loyola cadets is 21-year-old senior and nursing major Brendan Filip, who said that this announcement contrasted the military’s typical method of implementing policies gradually.

“I think one of the things that kind of reverberates shock in a lot of us was because, again, it was a tweet — not necessarily that it wasn’t the proper channel, but it kind of just came out of nowhere,” Filip said.

This policy change upended a decision made by the Pentagon just last year, which had lifted the previously existing transgender ban in the military.

“Hearing that now all that we’d just been preparing for and doing is now null and void essentially, that was kind of a shocker, and I think that’s still what’s reverberating through the community,” Filip said. “A lot of us were prepared for one thing, and now we’d heard another. I think any profession can agree that that’s frustrating. It’s not something we wanted to happen, essentially.”

Trump’s claim that transgender military service members bring a uniquely tremendous cost to the force is not entirely accurate. $8.4 million is spent on transgender members of the military. Comparatively, $41.6 million was spent to treat erectile dysfunction in 2016 alone, according to Forbes.

Loyola senior, 31-year-old exercise science major, and Marine Corps veteran Shawn Archer McDaniel said he believes that some critics of the transgender ban are not assessing its reasoning and implications thoroughly.

“A lot of times people really just don’t know, so they’re quick to judge an issue based on how it sounds and how it’s presented to them, when they might not have all the facts,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel said that often, and especially in the Marine Corps, medication is provided solely on an emergency basis. For example, when stationed in Afghanistan, McDaniel requested a refill of malaria prevention medication and was unable to receive it. He suggested that a similar situation could be experienced by a transgender individual in the military in need of hormone therapy medication.

“If a transgender person is in a combat zone and they need sustained medications, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to get it,” McDaniel said.

For this reason, McDaniel said he thinks the majority of military personnel are in support of the transgender ban and that its ability to reduce the potential loss of life is invaluable.

Still, Sibaja said he feels that the overall message conveyed by the transgender ban is that Trump will not support transgender individuals.

“The reasons for Trump’s military ban are not realistic nor based in fact,” Sibaja said. “I knew he was not going to respect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. A lot of people don’t see trans individuals as valid and I knew that he would not respect that identity either.”

The ban’s fate isn’t necessarily set in stone. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland filed a lawsuit on behalf of six active transgender military members against the Trump administration, asserting that it’s a form of discrimination targeting sex and transgender status, and that’s based on “uninformed speculation.”

“To put it frankly, [transgender] people just want to be treated like people,” Sibaja said. “So if I want to join the military, I feel like I should have the right to join the military.”

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