July 17, 2017 at 10:34 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Rep. King compares transgender troops to castrated slaves

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) compared transgender service members to castrated slaves on the House floor. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In the aftermath of the failed amendment on the U.S. House floor that would have barred transition-related care for transgender troops, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) delivered a speech Friday railing against their service and comparing them to castrated slaves in the now defunct Ottoman Empire.

King said on the House floor transgender military service “isn’t a civilization killer, but it is an indication of a civilization killer.”

“I think of the circumstances in a little bit older history, back in the 16th century and the 17th century when the Ottoman Empire and the Muslim armies were sweeping across the countryside, and whoever they captured, they pressed into slavery.” King said. “And when they pressed them into slavery, they wanted to have their crack troops — they were called Janissaries, and there were other troops too, as well. But what they did in order to keep them from reproducing was that they did reassignment surgery on those slaves that they captured, that they had put into their Janissary troops, and that reassignment surgery was they took them from being a virile, reproductive male into being a eunuch.”

In the end, King said, the Ottoman Empire determined eunuchs weren’t effective troops and “decided that they were going to keep anatomically complete men, men that were producing testosterone, in their crack Janissary troops, where they fought well.”

“That is a lesson of the military, the Ottoman military from 200, 300, 400 years ago,” King said. “And today we are here thinking somehow we are going to make the military better by letting people line up at the recruitment center who have planned that they want to do sexual reassignment surgery.”

King’s remarks were a double-whammy of denigration directed at both transgender people and Muslims — but entirely consistent with King’s long record of hateful comments against members of the Islamic faith and LGBT people.

The Iowa Republican also suggested transgender people enter military service solely to “submit to sexual reassignment surgery and go from a man to a woman.”

“This policy clearly enacted, clearly advertised, is a neon sign for people who want to have sexual reassignment surgery,” King said. “They will line up at their recruiter’s office and they will go into the military, and the military will be saying: You know, we had to turn this person away because they were too heavy, and this one had flat feet, and this one had a bad eye, and this one had a congenital defect of one kind or another, but if they don’t have those and they want sexual reassignment surgery, we will cut them up and remake them into something different.”

King also cited an estimate transition-related care would cost the military $3.5 or $3.9 billion over 10 years — a figure wildly higher than that of military experts. The RAND Corp. estimated gender reassignment surgery would consume between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually out of the Pentagon’s multi-billion dollar budget.

“And can you imagine someone who has now gone into Walter Reed Hospital, taken up a bed in Walter Reed Hospital, maybe a roommate with someone who was hit by an IED, someone who lost a couple of legs, amputated in the dangerous, dangerous service of the freedoms of our country, can you imagine those two beds, side by side, and one of them missing a couple of legs, or an arm, or an arm and a leg, or two arms, and the other one saying, ‘Well, I just came in for sexual reassignment surgery?'” King said. “I won’t say the next thing that is in my mind. I think the public understands the image of what this is.”

King makes the remarks the day the Republican-controlled House narrowly defeated an amendment proposed by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) that would have barred the Pentagon from paying for transition-related care, including hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery, for service members and their dependents.

The amendment was defeated after Defense Secretary James Mattis agreed to a six-month delay in an Obama-era plan to allow transgender people to enlist into the military starting on July 1, 2017, citing the need for more time to review the issue.

Daniel Hoffman-Zinnel, executive director of One Iowa, condemned King’s floor remarks in a statement as “absolutely unacceptable.”

“Not only does he compare transgender troops to castrated slaves, but he insinuates that transgender people going into the service only do so to get free surgery,” Hoffman-Zinnel said. “People join the military for a multitude of reasons, and the same goes for transgender individuals. To group all transgender people together and claim they all intend to somehow game the system is not only false, but contributes to harmful and untrue stereotypes transgender people face that contribute to harassment and violence.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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