Sen. Tammy Duckworth Delivered A Powerful Response To Transgender Military Ban

"All that mattered was they didn't leave me behind."

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth delivered a powerful response to President Donald Trump's plan to move forward on a transgender military ban.

In a compelling statement that left no room for ambiguity, Sen. Duckworth recalled her own military experience serving as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, as well as the incident in which her helicopter was shot down and she lost both her legs. Fellow service members carried her to safety. 

"When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk helicopter after I was shot down, I didn't care if the American troops risking their lives to help save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white or brown. All that mattered was they didn't leave me behind," Duckworth said in the statement. "If you are willing to risk your life for our country, and you can do the job you should be able to serve — no matter your gender identity or sexual orientation."



Philadelphia, PA/USA - July 27, 2016: Congresswoman Lieutenant Colonel Tammy Duckworth walks to the podium at the Democratic National Convention.
Philadelphia, PA/USA - July 27, 2016: Congresswoman Lieutenant Colonel Tammy Duckworth walks to the podium at the Democratic National Convention. Cover photo: Shutterstock / Gregory Reed

Sen. Duckworth, who is currently traveling in Illinois, couldn't immediately respond to a request for comment. But Carl Castro, a U.S. Army colonel who served 33 years in the military before becoming an associate professor at the University of Southern California, said he "couldn't agree more" with Duckworth's stand. 

And his opinion carries some weight: Castro has studied military transitions and acceptance throughout his service and since retiring. He's a member of several Department of Defense research panels on psychological health and works as the editor of Military Behavioral Health, the top academic journal on the well-being of current and former service members and their families. (Castro is also a professor in USC's online Master of Social Work program.)

When President Trump announced the decision to ban transgender troops on Twitter, there was little guidance about what would happen to the transgender soldiers currently serving. A White House memo is expected to be sent to the Pentagon in the coming days that will bar recruiting transgender soldiers and paying for sexual reassignment surgery or other treatments for soldiers who are currently serving. President Trump said he was "doing the military a great favor" by banning transgender troops.

Castro disagreed.

"The substance of the ban is really ridiculous," Castro told A Plus. "Transgender service members have been serving with honor and with distinction. To say that you've done the Department of Defense (DoD) a big favor is disingenuous, to say the least."

Castro said that he is currently conducting studies to determine whether there are any acceptance issues of trans soldiers in the military and whether the health care costs are or could be prohibitive in allowing soldiers to serve. But so far, everything seems to be going smoothly.

"Service members really don't care what your sexual orientation is as long as you can do your job," Castro said. 

What Castro has found is that there are instances where a transgender soldier would be non-deployable, like for the year or two that they are going through a transition while taking medication or after sexual reassignment surgery. But he likened that, and the cost of transgender troops, to a female soldier who is pregnant.

"They're non-deployable too, for nine months during the pregnancy and for three months post-pregnancy," Castro said, adding that female service members' health care costs more on average than male service members' health care. "But nobody is suggesting that women shouldn't be able to serve in the military because that'd be ridiculous."

At most, there are 15,000 transgender service members serving in the military. Castro says that number makes the relative cost almost negligible.

Transgender veteran Shane Ortega has spoken out against the ban.

"The idea this is going to bankrupt the health care system is ridiculous," Castro said. "In fact, I saw a number — I don't know how accurate it is — that said that the DoD spends three times as much money on Viagra as it would cost on all of the transgender processes."

In fact, several reports show the military's expenditure on Viagra is more like five times the price of transgender medical costs. While Castro wouldn't predict whether the ban will end up going into effect, he did note that — for the most part — transgender people are mostly excluded from the military as it is. Typically, trans soldiers who are currently in the military began their transition after enlisting, not before. Which is what opponents of the ban say makes Trump's policy so draconian: it's directly targeting people who are already serving.

As for Sen. Duckworth, a Democrat, she's pledging to stop any transgender ban from becoming reality. Almost all of her Democratic colleagues have spoken out against the ban, and she'll probably get some help from across the aisle: nine Republican senators have already expressed opposition to Trump's proposal. That's about in line with views of the American public, which — by a 68 to 27 percent margin — say transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military, according to Quinnipiac

"If the President enacts this ban, which would harm our military readiness, the Democratic and Republican Members of Congress who oppose this discrimination must enact legislation that prevents it from taking effect," Duckworth said.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Duckworth was campaigning while traveling in Illinois. Per her press secretary, she is attending events in the state in her official capacity as a senator. A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Castro as being enrolled in USC's online MSW program; he is a professor.

Cover photo: Shutterstock / Gregory Reed

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