The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) stands with transgender community members, affirms their sacredness - as they are created in the image of God - and asserts their deservedness of a dignified and respectful work environment. On Wednesday, President Trump issued a series of tweets that abruptly announced a ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military. It is particularly disappointing given that this proclamation falls on the anniversary of President Truman’s Executive Order 9981 that abolished racial discrimination in the U.S. Armed Forces in 1948. This decision by President Trump reversed a gradual transformation under the Obama administration, which welcomed transgender people to serve openly. President Trump said, "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Naming transgender people and their life-saving medical needs a “burden” is cruel, inaccurate, discriminatory, and serves to further push to the margins a population that experiences job discrimination, homelessness, suicide, and hate-motivated violence at devastating rates. As Micah stands firmly within the prophetic tradition that calls us to honor God’s image in one another, so should Presbyterians in this moment. God requires us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessor churches have explicitly affirmed the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people for almost forty years. A resolution passed by the 221st General Assembly (2014) entitled, On the Global Crisis for People Who Are LGBT and Their Families: A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Response, “[encouraged] each Presbyterian to hold in prayer our LGBT sisters and brothers in the countries where they are vulnerable around the world” (Minutes, Part I, p.737). It is a painful reality that, indeed, our own country remains one of those where LGBT people, particularly transgender people, are vulnerable and explicitly targeted by our most powerful politician and the systems he influences.
According to the Williams Institute, there are an estimated 15,500 actively serving transgender members of the U.S. military. Thousands of transgender people have risked their lives in service to this country including the more than 134,000 transgender veterans who are alive today. Although the President alluded to exorbitant medical costs associated with transgender service members, the reality is that these costs amount to less than a thousandth of one percent of the Defense Department’s annual budget.
Historically, we understand inclusion in military service to be a bell tolling the advance of justice and an affirmation of citizenship and humanity for marginalized groups. This week we also saw the Department of Justice file court papers asserting that the law does not protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. These actions combined represent a clear effort to undermine the rights of LGBT people and to dampen the knell of freedom. We hold close our LGBT neighbors, even as the law of the land tries to push them away, and commit to stand with and defend them against bigotry, exclusion, and demonization.