Ira Berkley

Ira Berkley is an editorial intern at The American Prospect

Recent Articles

Defending Their Own: Coast Guard Speaks Up After Trump Lashes Out at Transgender Soldiers

The Coast Guard has taken a leading role in efforts to push back against President Trump’s plan to ban transgender soldiers from military service. “The first thing we did was reach out to all 13 members of the Coast Guard who are transgender,” said Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington after Trump announced the ban on Twitter. Zukunft added that the Coast Guard would not “break faith” with transgender soldiers. “We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard," he said.

The other four branches of the military have yet to comment on Trump’s plan. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, has announced that that there would be “no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidelines.”

Trump’s proposed ban would reverse the Obama administration’s 2016 decision to allow transgender people to openly serve in the armed forces. Last year, Obama’s defense secretary Ashton Carter prohibited discharging or otherwise separating transgender people from the military solely on the basis of their gender identity.

In early June, the Army, along with the Air Force, requested a two-year delay on accepting transgender recruits; the Navy requested a one-year wait. These requests were rejected by the Pentagon in favor of a six-month delay for all branches. Although most active duty officers had little to say about the proposed ban, many transgender soldiers have been alarmed by Trump’s move.

Wendy May, a genderfluid trans woman and Army veteran who works regularly with soldiers, told The American Prospect that she and others were “appalled” by the president’s plan. She says it is little more than a discriminatory “smokescreen that the White House has used to keep us focused on other things than what we need to focus on.” More than 50 retired senior officers criticized Trump’s plan in a signed joint statement published by the Palm Center, a LGBT military advocacy center, saying that “the proposed ban would degrade readiness even more than the failed ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy” instituted in the mid-1990s.

Trump’s announcement, which he made without consulting top military leaders, came during near-constant coverage of his political and personal gaffes, including all-time low approval ratings, the Scaramucci scandal, and the failure of the Republican efforts to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act. The ban allows Trump to engage two of his favorite ploys: targeting a controversial minority group and chipping away at Obama’s legacy.

If the announcement was designed to distract Americans from the chaos at the White House, it backfired. The ban only further antagonized Democratic and Republican members of Congress who have pushed back on the president’s plan, while a Quinnipiac University national poll released Tuesday shows that with the exception of Republicans, Americans support transgender military service 68 percent to 22 percent.

Estimates of active duty transgender soldiers range from roughly from 1,300 to 7,000 to about 15,500. Although transgender people comprise a tiny percentage of soldiers, they constitute one of the largest segments of openly transgender Americans.

Trump and others who oppose transgender people serving in the military often point to the high costs of transition-related health care. A RAND Corporation report found that the cost of gender transition-related health care in the military runs between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually. The report also found that past integration efforts involving women and lesbians, gays, and bisexuals indicated that there would be “a minimal likely impact on force readiness.”

“A year ago, Donald said he was going to support the LGBT community more than Hillary, [but] he has done absolutely nothing but to destroy the ‘T’ part of the community,” May says. “We’ve been treated as completely disposable people by the politicians in Washington.”

Q&A: Virginia’s Danica Roem Aims to Fix Infrastructure -- and Make History

If elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, Danica Roem would be the first openly transgender state representative in the United States. The 32-year-old Manassas native won a four-way Democratic primary on a platform of transportation, economic development, education, and inclusion, and is now running for Virginia’s 13th District against 11-term Republican incumbent Delegate Bob Marshall, who is known for having proposed earlier this year a bill to restrict transgender people’s public bathroom use.

The Prospect spoke to Roem over the phone about her campaign. The conversation has been edited and condensed.

Ira Berkley: What are you most focused on in your campaign?

Danica Roem: We have to focus on fixing our existing infrastructure first. [Delegate Marshall] is more concerned with how I as a transgender person go to the bathroom versus how his constituents get to work. Transgender people actually have public policy ideas that are applicable, that make sense, that would make good public policy, just like anyone else. If you have good public policy ideas, you have a right as an American to bring those ideas to the table. I’m out to prove that yes, transgender people are just as capable of fully funding transportation, taking care of land use issues, taking care of education, taking care of economic development as anyone else. I’m going to be focused on transportation, economic development, education, health care, quality-of-life stuff, while not being afraid to champion nondiscrimination policies.

What was it like growing up in Manassas, Virginia, and what shaped your politics?

I knew I was transgender from the time I was in fifth grade. So, growing up as a closet case in the 1990s was not easy. I came out to one person before college, and only said I was bi. I used sexuality as a stepping stone to get to gender identity, because the homophobic slurs that would be thrown around from my childhood on were severe, and I know what it's like to be singled out for the perception of being gay, let alone the reality of being transgender. Any chance I had for feminine expression I had to do in the privacy of my own room because I was too afraid to step out of my house.

In the 2004 presidential campaign, George W. Bush was floating the idea of supporting a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality. That was a pivotal moment for me, because by that point I was in my sophomore year of college, I had come out to a lot of my female friends in regards to sexuality, and to some in regards to [being] transgender. But to see the president use the Constitution as a wedge to divide LGBTQ people from their neighbors spurred my interest in politics.

[Barack Obama’s] presidency was absolutely transformative in every sense of the word. He is the first president in my life who looked at LGBTQ people and said, “You are equal and contributing members of society and no one should discriminate against you.” He was the first president who was completely affirming of transgender people. Compare his demeanor to the demeanor of President Trump—it’s night and day. We have someone who has demonstrated that he’s not fit to lead. To me, all Trump’s election showed me is that there is literally nothing in my background to disqualify me for office.

How did Marshall’s history of anti-LGBT remarks and policies factor into your decision to run? How do you feel about the distinction of being, if elected, the first openly transgender state legislator in the United States?

All it means [is] that a transgender person would have the opportunity to finally fix [state] Route 28! But I also understand it from a much broader sense. I’ve talked to a lot of LGBTQ constituents within the district who very actively support my campaign and who see someone willing to champion things that they believe in.

I was deeply unsatisfied with [Marshall’s] constituent service and the fact that he has singled out and stigmatized his own constituents over and over again. After 25 years of being his constituent, I was fed up, and it was time to do something about it. The Trump campaign cemented it. Either we just complain on our computers, or we stand up and do something.

Black, American, and Armed

With concerns about police violence and white supremacist groups mounting, some black gun owners have decided to take charge of their own safety.

Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP, File
Scott Takushi/Pioneer Press via AP, File An activist hangs a sign on the gate of the Minnesota Governor's Residence in St. Paul. A frican Americans who exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms find themselves caught between the two irreconcilable narratives of gun rights and racial justice. One storyline justifies African American deaths to assuage whites’ fears of violence by blacks, and the other regularly forces blacks to prove that they are reaching for a wallet or a driver’s license, not a gun. What is irrefutable, however, is that a black person carrying a legal weapon can face deadly consequences. On July 6, 2016, a police officer pulled over Philando Castile for a routine traffic stop in St. Anthony, a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. In a video live-streamed by Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reyes, Castile calmly told Officer Jeronimo Yanez that he is a licensed gun owner and has a firearm in the car, facts that he did not have to disclose under Minnesota law. Yanez...