I’m seldom saddened or shocked by the news anymore. Like many Americans, I’ve become somewhat numb to our country’s dystopian angst. But, an article this week from my beloved Naval Academy hurt just enough to shake me from my desensitized state.
The headline from the CBS news piece read: “Naval Academy to ban transgender students starting in fall 2020.”
This wasn’t surprising. I’ve been watching the news of the president’s transgender troop ban. I’ve read this entirely unnecessary and evil policy threatens as many as 15,000 American fighting men and women. And, I’ve written at length on this policy being born solely of the president’s desire to weaponize the endemic bigotry of his base for political gain. So, when I read the Naval Academy will bar from its hallowed halls transgender midshipmen beginning next fall, I wasn’t entirely surprised.
But, I was profoundly saddened. I was, and am, saddened because this policy is tarnishing the honor of an institution I hold dear, and hurting young men and women who’ve undergone the same trials and triumphs I and my classmates faced on the banks of the Severn. And, they will be hurt. They will be hurt, and diminished and pushed from a place they have earned – all for being who they were born to be.
When I was a midshipman at Annapolis, and through my entire time in uniform, the U.S. military still was under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. So, I don’t have a frame of reference for openly LGBTQ members serving there or in the fleet. But, I do have a solid frame of reference for people I loved as brothers and sisters and valued as comrades in arms who were forced to deny their true identity to remain in uniform, to pledge their lives for the sake of our country. Now, it seems, we as a nation will push those brave men and women back into the shadows, or else out of the service altogether.
The scapegoat for this evil – like that of discriminating against gay and lesbian, female and minority service members before it – is always “military necessity.” But, the military never asked for this change.
In a Senate hearing on the matter last April, when there still was hope the Supreme Court would uphold the sacrosanct principles of justice and equality – a naïve and forlorn hope, it turns out – the heads of the Navy and Marine Corps made it clear they saw no issues with the continued full and open integration of transgender Marines and sailors.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told lawmakers the fleet was “steady as she goes” with openly transgender sailors onboard. Like all other sailors, these men and women had earned the right to be there, Richardson told the Senate.
“By virtue of being a Navy sailor, we treat every one of those Navy sailors, regardless, with dignity and respect,” Richardson said. “That is warranted by wearing the uniform of the United States Navy. By virtue of that approach, I am not aware of any issues.”
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller also said there were no issues of “military necessity” to bar transgender troops, and said the Corps was honor-bound to the trust transgender Marines had shown in coming forward when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was lifted.
“Those that came forward, we have to honor the fact that they came out, and they trusted us to say that, and help them get through the process,” Neller said.
The hard-nosed, combat-tested general, who’s been an infantry officer since 1975, told senators he’d gone to great lengths to visit with transgender sailors and Marines. His conclusion?
“I learned about their desire to serve,” Neller said. “As long as they can meet the standard of what their particular occupation was, I think we’ll move forward.”
And that, ladies and gents, sums up the slow, painful impetus of our country and its armed forces over the last 24 decades: “we’ll move forward.”
Progress toward equality has been slow — moving at a glacial pace, at times. Women weren’t admitted to the service academies until 1976, and only just gained (still limited) access to the submarine force in 2016. It took two world wars to force racial integration on the services in 1945, and full equalization of opportunity has been much slower coming. And, it took until 2011 for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to be repealed.
Today, we (most of us) look with regret on our nation’s checkered past of inequality and injustice. We (most of us) would not desire to go back into those days, when society picked winners and losers based on arbitrary lines that favored straight, white, Christian men — and them only. Our one consolation has been our country’s slow, begrudging movement forward.
But, we’re no longer moving forward. We, collectively, have selected a government that willfully chooses to move backward on equality. And that is sad.
It’s sad brave men and women will be forced from the service, or forced to deny their true selves.
What’s more sad is what this does to our nation, our children, and yes, to my beloved alma mater. Because a nation that willfully regresses away from equality — that nation no longer deserves the devotion and sacrifice of brave men and women.