President Donald Trump’s abrupt announcement via Twitter on Wednesday morning that the U.S. government “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military” came as a shock to Amanda Watson of Fresno, a transgender woman who served in the U.S. Navy during Desert Storm.
“It just made me feel like my service was unvalued, that I didn’t exist,” Watson says, “and that we don’t have rights.”
Never miss a local story.
It’s unclear how many transgender people serve in the military, McClatchy’s Kate Irby reported, because of the risk they have faced of being discharged if their status was officially known. Estimates are between 2,450 and 15,500.
A ban on transgender men and women serving was lifted in June 2016, with a Pentagon directive under the administration of President Barack Obama calling for implementation this summer of conditions to accept new applicants, according to the Military Times.
We are Americans. We are supposed to have the same life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as all Americans. We don’t deserve this. We don’t deserve to be seen as second-class citizens. This is beyond segregation … this is complete exclusion.
Trump wrote in his tweets that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” A Pentagon study estimated that transgender treatments would increase military health care costs between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, or about 0.13 percent, according to the LA Times.
“Working in the medical field … that is really nothing,” says Watson, who works in patient financial services at a Fresno hospital, and previously served in hospital psychiatric admissions in the Navy.
Watson says she felt it was her duty to join the Navy to “stand up for the liberties that we have.”
“We love and value our country,” Watson says of transgender men and women in the military, “and we want to help serve and honor and defend the country.”
We were told we were unfit for any kind of service in the U.S. military. Think of the power of that statement.
Trump’s announcement also came as a shock to Karen Scot, who previously led the California Cadet Corps program, which prepares youths for military service, at Yosemite High School in Oakhurst. The science teacher made national headlines in 2014 when she changed her name mid-school year from Gary Sconce to Karen Adell Scot and announced she was physically transitioning from male to female.
Scot trained hundreds of teenagers as a commandant of the California Cadet Corps; was a reserve deputy for the Madera County Sheriff’s Office; was an adviser for the department’s sheriff explorer program, which trains youths for careers in law enforcement; and is trained in martial arts.
In 2006, Scot received an award for outstanding California Cadet Corps leadership from the Army National Guard.
“I greatly enjoyed serving my community,” Scot says. “I would treat people with kindness and dignity.”
Scot says her physical transition from male to female doesn’t change that she remains a “tremendously accurate shooter – I can put three bullets in the same hole,” and that it doesn’t make sense that transgender women aren’t allowed to serve in the military, while straight or lesbian women can.
She says Trump’s announcement comes from a lack of understanding of who transgender people are. “A transgender person is a human being born with an extremely rare brain gender difference then their assumed physical gender at birth. … Sexual preference in a partner is completely different than gender identity.” Scot says transgender people can “either be gay, straight, bisexual or asexual, just like any other human being.”
Scot worries that Trump’s ban will add to the danger transgender people already face. Scot, also founder and director of TransCare, which supports transgender people, says transgender women are four times more likely to be murdered than non-trans women, and that since she physically transitioned to a woman, she has been sexually and physically assaulted.
We only seek the same kindness, dignity and respect than any American wants to have.
She says Trump’s claims that having transgender people in the military would be too costly is unfounded since fewer than 2 percent of transgender people a year undergo a gender surgery, and that the real cost to American taxpayers will be the millions of dollars of specialized training thrown away with the removal of thousands of transgender people from the military.
Scot points to studies in countries where transgender people are allowed to serve in the military and no negative effect on group morale or performance has been found.
“We are Americans. We are supposed to have the same life, liberty and pursuit of happiness as all Americans,” Scot says. “We don’t deserve this. We don’t deserve to be seen as second-class citizens. This is beyond segregation … this is complete exclusion.”