Shari Zabel was not pleased with President Trump's tweets on Wednesday. When Trump announced via the social media site that the military would no longer allow transgender people to serve, Zabel couldn't help but take personal offense to the claim. As a transgender veteran, Zabel knows all too well the impact a change in policy like this could have, and also how hypocritical an attempt to pass this off as being for the good of the military is.
On Wednesday morning, the president tweeted that after "consultation" with "generals and military experts," the U.S. government would not long allow transgender folk to serve "in any capacity" in the U.S. military. He cited the military's budget and readiness as reasoning for the ban.
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.
Zabel retired from the Air Force after 20 years of service and now serves as the CEO for Springs Equality, a Colorado Springs-based equality center and affiliate of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.
She first points out that at this time, we have only seen the president tweet about this issue. No executive order has been signed or any other official document of any kind been released, so she feels a small amount of hope that it will not actually go into effect, but she also knows that she is being somewhat naive if she really believes that.
"These are interesting times and we have an interesting child in the Oval Office right now," Zabel tells Bustle. "It's being bigoted, it's being discriminatory, and that's who he is, and that's who Pence is. He's playing to a particularly hard-core base of Americans that is all about control. It's all about discrimination. It doesn't want anyone who is different to have the same rights they do. And really that's all it's about."
"You do your job and you do it well. You're here to do the mission."
Zabel says that for Trump to make these assertions means he is listening to the opinions of his advisers in Washington, not the people actually on the battlefield. She says transgender people have been serving their for years, and serving it well.
"We have been serving. I did 20 years of flying in fighters, and I did 10 years of that in and out of combat. I'm a transgender person, and I did it well. And there are plenty of people like me," she says. "You do your job and you do it well. You're here to do the mission. He's not listening to the people down in the trenches. He's listening to a select few who have a beef."
The cost factor that Trump cited is something that oppressive forces have come back to time and time again in history, because "it's an easy theme to glom on to," Zabel points out.
Trump's claim that having transgender people in the military would create high medical costs for the department is not based in fact. The contrary was found in a 2016 study by the research organization The RAND Corporation. It found that only 0.1 to 0.5 percent of active military members were transgender or gender non-conforming, and that only a small percentage each year would seek gender-transition-related care while they were enlisted. And for those who did wish to undergo hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery, these services would only account for .0038 to .134 percent of the military's $6 billion health care budget, when estimated using figures for the 2014 fiscal year.
"Yes, there is a cost, of course there is a cost, there's a cost for anybody to serve," Zabel says. "It's like saying to a woman who's in the military, 'Sorry, but you no longer can be in the military because there's a possibility that you might get pregnant.'"
Zabel mentions that studies on LGBT people's efficacy in the military going back as far as the 1940s have disproved the misconception that they would be a distraction or add additional risk to their units.
"All of those reports say LGBT people are perfectly capable of serving, they get the mission done effectively without any burden; and, in fact in some of the reports say that LGBT people were less of a security risk than anybody else," Zabel says.
Zabel also calls attention to the fact that she is not even sure how something like this would be enforced, since there are already many transgender people currently serving in the military. Would the government kick them out? Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn't have an answer for enforcement during a press briefing Wednesday. And what would happen to the health care of retired service members like Zabel, who receives coverage through the military? Would she lose access to that?
"We already in the transgender community are underemployed and unemployed at far higher rates than any other population," Zabel says. "But the people who are serving are there and they're doing it well. And you're just going to arbitrarily say, 'See ya, have a nice life, there's the gate.'"
It's quite clear to Zabel that Trump's rhetoric on Wednesday was more about causing political stir than actually benefiting the military in any way.
"You want to disrupt the mission? You've done it. You've done more damage with those three tweets than you ever could by keeping your mouth shut," Zabel says.