Late-night hosts found a variety of ways to address Trump’s tweets on Wednesday morning in which he announced, out of the blue, that he had decided to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military. The writers of Late Night With Seth Meyers called out supposed LGBTQ ally Ivanka Trump for her telling silence on the issue, while James Corden sang a parody of Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E,” changing the lyrics to “L-G-B-T.” Stephen Colbert called Trump’s move “cruel” and delivered a very straightforward message to the president: “Fuck you.” Even the relatively apolitical Tonight Show gave trans comedian Patti Harrison a platform to crack some jokes about the ban.
But over on The Daily Show, Trevor Noah set himself apart from the crowd, cutting through the noise by talking at length with two people who really understand this issue from personal experience: Joey Whimple and Jennifer Marie Long, two trans U.S. Army veterans.
Whimple, who served as an HR supervisor for a combat support hospital and was a full honors funeral pallbearer, spoke about what it was like serving while closeted, explaining that he was afraid to physically transition while enlisted because being transgender was still considered a mental illness—and that a dishonorable discharge could devastate his future career prospects. Now, transgender people serving in the military who came out after the Pentagon lifted its ban on transgender service last year may be placed in that same position. “Individuals felt that comfort, that safety net to come out in their units,” he said. “Now the carpet’s being completely ripped out from underneath, and it just leaves this question of uncertainty: What’s next?”
Long, a retired sergeant major and decorated combat veteran, says her career ended when she was outed. “In the last weeks of my career, word got out that I was transgender and I was in fact living another life,” she said. “Command called me up and asked me to retire quietly.” She compared the transgender ban to “don’t ask, don’t tell,” recalling what happened when that ban was lifted and gay, bisexual, and lesbian people were finally allowed to serve openly in the military: “Nothing. Nothing changed. The force was still the same,” she said. “Everybody still served the way they did.”
Approximately 15,000 transgender service members are already allowed to serve openly, making it especially hard to justify Trump's decision, not least because the military hasn't even finished its study on what will happen if openly transgender people are allowed to enlist without concealing their gender identity from the very beginning. If Long's experience with DADT is any indicator, the answer will again be: “nothing.”