After President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that persons identifying as transgender could not serve in the U.S. military, theologians and bioethics experts voiced support for the policy change.
Those who identify as transgender are “people made in God's image, and they deserve our compassion, and they deserve to be treated with dignity, but that doesn't mean that they are fit for combat in the defense of a nation,” said Dr. Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Pecknold told CNA that the policy change was the “right decision” that replaced the previous “very bad policy.”
On Wednesday, President Trump announced that he would revoke a rule from late in President Obama’s second term allowing persons identifying as transgender to serve in the U.S. military. Those wishing to join the military who openly identified as transgender could be accepted provided they were proven “stable” in their gender identity for at least 18 months.
With the new administration, however, new Defense Secretary James Mattis delayed the implementation of that policy until Jan. 1, 2018.
Then on Wednesday, President Trump announced that the policy would be undone. In a series of tweets, he stated that the new government policy would be to disallow “transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” saying that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
“It is unfortunate that the president did not have the political sense to let this decision be made at the appropriate level, and in the appropriate way, but it is nevertheless the right decision,” Pecknold said.
The estimates of the number of openly transgender persons currently in the U.S. military are unclear. RAND Corporation, in a 2016 assessment of the implications of allowing openly-transgender persons to serve, said that “it is difficult to estimate the number of transgender personnel in the military due to current policies and a lack of empirical data.”
However, using estimates and data from surveys, they reported “a midrange estimate of around 2,450 transgender personnel in the active component (out of a total number of approximately 1.3 million active-component service members) and 1,510 in the Selected Reserve.”
Last August, a report by a psychiatry professor and a biostatistician at Johns Hopkins University published in the New Atlantis found that claims of gender identity being independent of biological sex were not sufficiently supported by scientific evidence, as well as claims giving validity to the feeling of “a man trapped in a woman’s body.”
In addition, the report said, persons identifying as transgender have a suicide rate of 41 percent, versus the rate of 5 percent for the overall population.
Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, who researches and writes about marriage and bioethics at the Heritage Foundation, explained why the new course of action by the Trump administration is a measure protecting a vulnerable population from the challenges of combat.
“People who identify as transgender suffer a host of mental health and social problems – including anxiety, depression, and substance abuse – at higher rates than the general population,” he said in an article for the Daily Signal. It would be “reckless” to put them in a combat situation, he said.
Instead, good policy would respect the human dignity of all persons, which means helping them to accept the body that God gave them and not upholding their belief that they are a member of the opposite sex, Pecknold said.
“Pope Francis is famous for his stress upon dialogue, and his non-judgmental approach with respect to the dignity of every person,” he said. “But the Holy Father has also been crystal clear that ‘gender theory’ represents a burning threat to humanity, starkly describing it as a ‘global ideological war on marriage’.”
“The Holy Father admits that we can distinguish between sex and gender, but we cannot separate them,” Pecknold said, citing the Pope’s ecology encyclical Laudato Si.
“It makes much more therapeutic sense to help the mind conform to biological realities than to deform the body in order to fit a disordered mental picture.”
There are also practical concerns that are addressed by not letting persons identifying as transgender serve in the military, Anderson said.
For instance, “the privacy of service members must not be infringed,” he said, and this privacy could be challenged by persons of one biological sex, who identify as a member of the opposite sex, living in single-sex barracks and using single-sex showers and bathrooms.
“Given the nature of military living quarters, it is unclear where soldiers who identify as transgender could be housed,” he wrote.
Allowing openly-transgender persons into the military could also pose a challenge to the religious freedom and conscience rights of military chaplains, officers, and doctors, Anderson said.
“Unless and until military leaders are able to find a way to respect all of these provisions, there will remain good reasons why the military will be unable to accommodate people who identify as transgender,” he said.
Trump’s announcement was met with much outrage and opposition on Wednesday and Thursday, but this is actually evidence of an almost universal disdain for natural limits set by God, argued William Patenaude, who blogs at CatholicEcology.net.
“Like it or not, the rejection of modern realities like gender theory, with its malleable understanding of the human person, is part of what Pope Francis’s concept of Integral Ecology includes,” he said in an article.
Pope Francis, in his ecology encyclical Laudato Si, wrote that “the acceptance of our bodies as God's gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.”
“Gender theory” rejects this belief in the natural limits of our bodies, he said, but so does today’s lifestyle of excess and pollution that leads to environmental degradation.
“The laws of nature and natural law are equally fixed and render equally severe consequences when ignoring them,” Patenaude said.
“And so the planet and its people suffer, all because we reject what our first parents learned in Eden. Quite often the word ‘no,’ is meant to protect us,” he said.