While Donald Trump has tried to kick of Pride Month by claiming he’s friendly towards the LGBT community, the policies he’s promoting have made it clear he isn’t a friend of equality. Despite objections from men and women in uniform, the president is moving forward with a measure that would ban transgender people from serving in the military. Unfortunately, Ralph Northam is following Trump’s lead by allowing the ban to be implemented in Virginia’s National Guard.
After the governors of at least five different states announced they wouldn’t be implementing the discriminatory policies in their National Guards, ThinkProgress reached out to various governors to see how they would proceed — including Governor Ralph Northam. They received a letter from General Timothy Williams in response saying members of Virginia’s National Guard “must meet established Department of Defense (DOD) readiness standards.” In other words, transgender folks won’t be allowed to serve.
Perhaps in a sign that Northam and his allies realized the decision would be met with a lot of skepticism, General Williams tried to argue Trump’s new policy doesn’t actually prevent transgender people from service (kinda like how Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell didn’t necessarily ban gay people from serving).
“The new DOD policy doesn’t ban transgender individuals from service, and transgender service members may continue to serve,” his letter to ThinkProgress proclaimed. “The DOD policy states that anyone who meets military standards without special accommodations can and should be able to serve, and this includes transgender persons.”
The Trump Administration’s bigoted policy specifically says that service members can only serve in their “biological sex,” which means transgender people can’t serve even if they’ve already transitions to the gender that matches their true identity. Ralph Northam, who is already coming under fire for racist behavior while in college, is therefore making it clear he also won’t be supportive of the LGBT community — a community which did a lot to help him get elected back in 2017.
The sentiment expressed to ThinkProgress was also evident in letters that were sent out to local Virginia residents, such as Connie Rice from Loudoun County, who sent letters to Northam encouraging him to allow the transgender community to serve in the National Guard.
Since the National Guard of every state falls under the command of the state’s governor, those who don’t want to implement a discriminatory policy in their state would have the ability to ignore the Trump Administration’s policy. And as previously mentioned, five different states (California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and New Mexico) have already announced that they’ll allow transgender people to serve in their National Guard. While discussing the policy, the governors in these states made it clear that discrimination is simply unacceptable when it comes to people who are willing to serve their country.
“The State of Nevada does not discriminate against anyone, including and especially servicemembers, based on gender identity or expression,” a communications staffer for Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak told the Daily Beast. “Governor Sisolak believes the only criteria to serve in the Nevada National Guard is one’s readiness to serve.”
Back when Trump originally announced policy proposal on twitter and Northam was trying to win votes from the LGBT community, he appeared to share in this sentiment. In a tweet directed at Trump towards the end of July in 2017, Northam said “anyone who wants to serve our country in the military should be welcomed. They’re patriots and should be treated as such.”
This was seen as a positive sign from supporters of basic equality, especially when they considered how Virginians from various backgrounds would have supported Northam if he decided to allow transgender people to serve. Local organizations such as the Loudoun County Democratic Committee, for instance, took up resolutions urging the governor to allow transgender people to serve in uniform. These resolutions highlighted how “transgender members of the Armed Forces have fought in defense of our freedoms with honor and distinction since the founding of our nation,” but were ultimately ignored by Governor Northam.
Although Northam is refusing to stand up for basic common decency when it comes to people willing to serve in Virginia, there is still some hope bigotry won’t prevail in the long run. With conservative estimates suggesting there are at least 9,000 transgender people currently serving in the military, it shouldn’t be surprising that the policy will directly impact those currently in uniform and they’re taking action to ensure the transgender community cannot be erased from the military.
As a result, there were lawsuits challenging the policy that were filed before the policy even went into effect — though they were obviously unsuccessful in their initial goal of preventing the policy from being implemented. One of the cases was filed by Catherine Schmid, a woman who not only worries about whether she’ll be considered on her merits when she’s up for a promotion, but told the LA Times she wonders if she’ll even be able to keep her job. This is despite her colleagues in the Army claiming she’s good at her job and deserves to continue serving while being her authentic self.
Considering how the court system can take a long time and there’s still no guarantee of success, lawmakers are also considering some legislative remedies. One option on the table is using the National Defense Authorization Act to repeal the policy when it’s considered by Congress this summer. The move has a good chance of making it through the House of Representatives, but it’s unclear how successful the effort would be when it reached the GOP controlled Senate.
What this all means is that Governor Ralph Northam has decided to team up with Donald Trump while allowing discrimination against the transgender community, but there are still efforts taking place to ensure basic equality eventually prevails. Unfortunately, it simply looks like it will take longer than most hoped it would here in Virginia.