While discussing a defense funding bill Friday, a prominent House Republican compared transgender service members castrated slaves. Rep. Steve King argued that the Pentagon shouldn't pay the medical costs of transgender troops, because that would be no better than when the Ottoman Empire's military used to castrate its slaves several centuries ago.
Before passing the National Defense Authorization Act on Thursday, the House of Representatives voted on an amendment that would ban the Pentagon from paying for the transition surgery, hormone therapy and other medical needs of transgender troops. In a narrow 209-214 vote, that amendment failed, with 24 Republicans joining Democrats to defeat it.
King, however, voted for that amendment, and he explained his reasoning in a floor speech on Friday.
"What [the Ottoman Empire] did in order to keep them from reproducing was that they did reassignment surgery on those slaves they had captured, that they had put into their janissary troops," King said on the House floor Friday, referring to the Ottoman Empire's military force. "And that reassignment surgery was they took them from being a virile, reproductive male into being a eunuch."
"And today," King concluded, "we're here thinking somehow we're going to make the military better by letting people line up at their recruitment center who have planned that they want to do sexual reassignment surgery, know that it's expensive, and believe 'if I can just get into any branch of the United States services — to the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines; maybe become a Navy SEAL — and then submit to sexual reassignment surgery and then go from a man to a woman.'"
The Ottomaman Empire did indeed castrate slaves, but that is not analogous to U.S. troops seeking gender reassignment surgery. Where castration is something that's forced its victims against their will, gender reassignment surgery is something that's actively desired and sought out by those who receive it (like transgender troops, for instance). The crucial difference between the two is that of consent.
King, a conservative Republican from Iowa, has made several controversial remarks throughout his career. He once referred to former President Obama as "Kim Jong POTUS," thus likening him to the dictatorial leader of North Korea. While arguing against immigration, he said that America "can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies," and once suggested that people of color haven't contributed as much to "civilization" as have white people.
“This whole white-people business, though, does get a little tired, Charlie,” King said on MSNBC in July. “I'd ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”
In his remarks Friday, King said that allowing transgender troops to receive subsidized medical care was "a civilization-killer."