“Semper Fidelis,” the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps, translates from Latin to “always faithful” or “always loyal.” It’s emblazoned across hats, tattoos and bumper stickers across the country, symbolizing the beefy patriotism — or nationalism, depending on whom you’re talking to — that comes with military service.
But, what does this loyalty look like when trans folks are involved? Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld the Trump administration’s policy barring trans folks from the armed forces. According to The New York Times, “The vote was 5 to 4, with the court’s five conservative members in the majority and its four liberal members in dissent.”
A breakdown of what’s on the table: The policy generally blocks people whose gender differs from their sex assigned at birth, with exceptions for transgender people already serving openly — and for those willing to participate “in their biological sex.” In this sense, the policy not only excludes most transwomen and transmen, but a host of other identities including genderqueer, nonbinary and agender citizens.
In Chicago, the ruling was met with a barrage of conflicting reactions from the trans community. Many view the ruling as a double-edged sword.
“The U.S. military is the No. 1 employer of trans people in the nation, and the VA is one of the largest providers of health care to trans people in the nation,” Stephanie Skora, co-founder of the Trans Liberation Collective, said in an interview.
“The U.S. military preys on the desperate to further its imperialist agenda. Because trans people face systemic unemployment and are denied health care, many of us are that desperate,” she added. “We don’t want to be in the military — we want jobs, health care and basic humanization.”
Mika Tosca, a trans climate scientist based in Chicago, echoed these sentiments.
“It’s obviously trying to erase trans people from society, but it’s just one piece of that puzzle,” she said. “It’s interesting that people I consider to be progressive and anti-imperialist are upset about it. There are other ways that trans people are being erased from public life — I think there are better battles.
“I feel that a lot of the louder responses coming from trans people are coming from people who are white and relatively new to being queer. Maybe they’ve forgotten or haven’t realized that this is a battle that queer people have been fighting for a long time, in many different respects.”
At the same time, Tosca understands why people would pursue the military as a way of receiving “life-affirming” health care.
“I don’t want to be involved in imperialism — but we live in a culture that values these institutions, so it’s important that trans folks be able to participate as full citizens.”
Jennifer N. Pritzker, a Republican transwoman and retired Army lieutenant colonel, wants to see the matter reversed.
“As a retired officer with a 27-year career in the Army, I believe a ban on transgender service hurts the readiness, morale, discipline and unit cohesion of the military,” she said. “Research shows that an inclusive policy promotes readiness, while exclusion harms it. A policy of equal treatment promotes integrity, equal standards, morale for minorities, and expands the talent pool. While the current administration pushes to reverse progress on LGBTQ rights, the decision is with the military. I urge them to leave the inclusive policy in place until litigation is resolved.”
In the meantime, members of the trans community continue to rally around their most vulnerable.
“While we do expect a surge in call volume, we are also there grieving along with our community,” says Sam Ames, the executive director of the Trans Lifeline, a national, peer-run advocacy organization with staff in Chicago. “I think it’s easy to forget that, until not long ago, these institutions didn’t protect us at all. Trans people have never relied on institutions — we survived for millennia by taking care of each other, and we will continue to take care of each other.”
“I think this would be really hard to see as a young person coming into their identity,” Ames continued. “If you are feeling overwhelmed and even hopeless, if you’re sitting in those difficult feelings, we are right there with you and will always be there to listen."