GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson would prefer to shut out transgender service members in the military, suggesting that he liked the idea of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy that prevented gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military.
“I do not appreciate using our military as a laboratory for social experimentation,” Carson said during a town hall hosted by the Concerned Veterans for America in Waterloo, Iowa on Saturday. “We have too many important things to do when our men and women are out there fighting the enemy. The last thing that we need to be doing is saying what would it be like if we introduced several transgender people into this platoon. Give me a break. Deal with the transgender thing somewhere else.”
“I liked the old ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ philosophy,” Carson added. “Why do you have to go around flaunting your sexuality? It’s not necessary. You don’t need to talk about that. We need to talk about how we eliminate the enemy.”
President Bill Clinton enacted the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy in 1993, which was later repealed in 2011. In July, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter ordered a six-month working group review to figure out how to incorporate transgender troops into the military.
In response to Carter opening all combat jobs to women earlier this week, Carson said that while he would never say “no” to women who could “go out on the front line in the dirt and the slime fighting,” he would be “very frightened” if standards had to be lowered.
This isn’t the first time that Carson has criticized transgender people. In November, Carson suggested that accommodating transgender people would mean giving them “extra rights.” But Carson has also criticized gay people, once comparing them to pedophiles; saying that prison rape turns people gay; and signing a pledge to support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
According to the Palm Center, a nonpartisan national commission, there are about 15,500 transgender members serving in the U.S. armed forces. About nine percent of transgender service members surveyed through the National Transgender Discrimination Survey said that they were discharged for being transgender or gender non-conforming.
But transgender people likely encounter similar issues to gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members. No reputable study has shown that allowing openly gay service members compromises military effectiveness, according to the Center for American Progress. Gay service members can serve openly, but they’re still not granted the same benefits as their straight counterparts. Those benefits include a range of federal benefits like health care for same-sex partners, government programs, and tax breaks.
Carson isn’t the only presidential candidate to weigh in on the topic of transgender military members. In July, Mike Huckabee similarly argued that “the military is not a place where we try out experiments… it’s not to fight the battles of sexual identity or orientation.”
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie sanders have both supported repealing the ban on transgender service members.