Commentary & Perspective

Banning Transgender Soldiers: A Clear Lose/Lose Situation

by Elizabeth Ames, Senior Vice President of Programs, Marketing and Alliances

What happens when we exclude people from public service based on some facet of their identity?  Nothing good.

When we make life-changing decisions based on irrelevant factors, we deprive people of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  And—more critically for our nation—we deprive our society of their powerful contributions.  It’s a clear lose/lose situation.

So when the president seeks to deny transgender members of our community the opportunity to serve in the military, and denigrates their contributions, the rest of us have a patriotic duty to speak up.

History is filled with people who have made world-changing contributions and yet were dismissed, underestimated, and even punished for who they were.

Lynn Conway is best known as a computer scientist, electrical engineer, and inventor; she is also a pioneering transgender activist. Lynn’s work at Xerox PARC helped lead to the development of VLSI (very large scale integration) technology, which makes today’s microprocessors possible.

British cryptologist Alan Turing played a pivotal role in decoding messages that enabled the Allies to defeat Nazi Germany. Widely considered the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, Turning was later persecuted by the government for being gay, despite his heroic wartime achievements. The highest honor in computer science, the Turing Award, is named in his honor.

African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson made mission-critical contributions during her years at NASA, including calculating flight trajectories and launch windows for many early space missions, including the Apollo 11 moon shot.  The recent movie Hidden Figures depicts this chapter of Katherine’s life.

The world would be a lesser place without the contributions of these people and many others like them. And, like them, transgender people deserve the right to be treated with respect and given the same opportunities to achieve, to serve their country, to live their lives in freedom without discrimination.  At the Anita Borg Institute, we stand with them.

(photo courtesy TransMilitary: Transgender service members with SPARTA’s Sue Fulton, far left, and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, third from right)