August 1, 2017 at 6:00 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Israeli military’s first transgender officer criticizes Trump

Capt. Shachar Erez is the first openly transgender officer in the Israel Defense Forces. (Photo courtesy of Capt. Shachar)

The first transgender officer in the Israel Defense Force has criticized President Trump’s decision to ban trans people from the U.S. military.

Capt. Shachar Erez in a commentary that A Wider Bridge, which describes itself as an “LGBTQ advocacy group building connections between the Israeli and North American LGBTQ communities,” posted on its website on July 27 wrote “barring transgender individuals from serving their country is not a policy based on credible professional opinion.”

“It is simply pure transphobic discrimination,” said Erez.

Erez described himself as a “proud officer” who has served in the Israeli military for 5 1/2 years. He acknowledged he was not out when he enlisted, but “realized that in order for me to be the best commander to my soldiers that I could be, I had to be honest with them about my full, authentic self.”

“The military is a place where everybody is equal, and judged only by their ability to do their job,” wrote Erez. “Being trans has never affected my ability to serve or be fairly viewed by my peers.”

Ban ‘further stigmatizes’ trans people

Israel and 17 other countries — Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. — allow trans people to serve in their respective armed forces. Trump’s announcement, which he made on July 26 in a series of tweets, reverses the Obama administration’s efforts to allow trans people to openly serve in the U.S. military and those who are out to enlist.

The Canadian Armed Forces on July 26 tweeted it welcomes Canadians “of all sexual orientations and gender identities” and encouraged them to enlist.

A spokesperson for the British government declined to comment to the Washington Blade on Trump’s announcement.

“We are clear that all LGBT+ members of our armed forces play a vital role in keeping our nation safe,” added the spokesperson in an email. “We will continue to welcome people from a diverse range of backgrounds, including transgender personnel.”

Julie Ward, a British member of the European Parliament who participated in this summer’s WorldPride in Madrid, described the U.S. ban as a “disgraceful action from a world leader.”

Activists from countries that allow trans people to serve in their militaries echoed Ward.

Sally Goldner, a trans and bisexual advocate in the Australian city of Melbourne, told the Blade the ban “sends a message that it (is) okay to demean a group of people simply for being in that group” and could spur further hate speech and violence based on gender identity. Goldner also echoed House Minority Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other critics of Trump’s announcement who have noted the Pentagon spends more on Viagra than healthcare for trans servicemembers.

“The cost argument is nonsense,” Goldner told the Blade.

Viktor Heumann, founder of Trans*parent, a trans advocacy group in the Czech Republic, also rejected the cost argument. Heumann in an email to the Blade described Trump’s assertion that trans servicemembers are a “disruption” as “rather vague.”

“Trump’s Tweet is yet another loud and populistic declaration that further stigmatizes the already marginalized group of transgender people,” said Heumann. “It is a malevolent signal that it is acceptable to bar access to a certain type of profession for trans people.”

“Although trans people in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world have more pressing concerns than representation in the U.S. Army that are related to their housing situation; access to healthcare and hate crime rates, Trump’s rhetoric sadly makes us (more) vulnerable in all of these respects,” added Heumann.

Editor’s note: Michael K. Lavers traveled to Israel and the West Bank in November 2016 with A Wider Bridge.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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