Trump Administration Set To Formalize Transgender Military Ban
Just about a month ago, President Trump surprised everyone by announcing on Twitter that he would be implementing a ban on transgender soldiers from serving in the military. The announcement, which reversed a policy change that the Obama Administration had announced just last year, came as a surprise to pretty much everyone since there had been no indication that the issue was under consideration by the White House and the Defense Department was continuing to work on implementing the Obama Administration’s plan. In the immediate aftermath of the President’s announcement, the military leaders at the Defense Department stated that current policy would remain in effect notwithstanding the President’s tweets unless and until a formal order was received from the White House. Shortly thereafter, the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard stated that his branch of the service would continue to follow the Obama Era policy until they receive a formal order to the contrary. On the other hand, though, there were the President’s tweets, which the White House has said in regard to other matters represent official policy, and the threat that an order could come from the President that would change existing policy and essentially mean the end of military careers for transgender members of the military. In that regard, it was reported by The Blade, a news site that caters to the LGBT community, that a new policy directive regarding transgender troops had been prepared by the White House and would be sent to the Defense Department. Subsequent to the President’s announcement, polling seemed to make clear that most Americans opposed the President’s announced policy, but that did not appear likely to deter the President from his chosen course. In the interim, a group of transgender soldiers has filed a lawsuit alleging that the President’s anticipated actions are unconstitutional.
This week, The New York Times reported that the Trump Administration has completed its work on the new policy and preparing to grant the Defense Department the authority to begin implementing the ban:
WASHINGTON — President Trump is preparing to give the Defense Department formal authority to expel transgender people from the military in an upcoming order, barring the Pentagon from recruiting transgender troops and cutting off payment for sexual reassignment surgery and other medical treatments for those already serving.
A White House memo that is expected to be sent to the Pentagon in coming days gives Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, six months to enforce the transgender ban that Mr. Trump announced abruptly last month in a series of tweets. The directive was confirmed Wednesday by a person familiar with its contents but who was not authorized to discuss its details and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The authority has not yet been finalized. Once it is approved, it would allow Mr. Mattis to force out transgender service members by setting a legal standard of whether they would be able to deploy to war zones or for other lengthy military missions.
The president’s order-by-social media caught senior military officials by surprise and short-circuited the customary interagency policy process that attends such sweeping decisions. At the time, as senior military officials scrambled to determine how to carry out the order, White House officials said they would work with the Pentagon to devise a policy to fit Mr. Trump’s tweets.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, declined late Wednesday to comment on any forthcoming guidance, saying the White House had no announcement on the matter. The memo was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Advocates of allowing transgender people to serve openly said the guidance imposed an unacceptable double standard.
“It is unconscionable that the commander in chief would take aim at his own, loyally serving troops for political reasons at a time when the military needs to focus on real threats,” said Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, a research institute that had worked with the military to devise its policy on admitting transgender service members.
“Imposing one set of standards for transgender troops, and another set of standards for everyone else is a recipe for disruption, distraction and waste,” Mr. Belkin said.
Mr. Trump gave no warning before announcing the ban in July and declaring on Twitter that American forces could not afford the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” of transgender service members. The president said he had consulted generals and military experts, but Mr. Mattis was given only a day’s notice about Mr. Trump’s decision.
The upcoming guidance — basing expulsion on a troop’s ability to serve — appears to be an attempt to reconcile Mr. Trump’s call for a blanket ban with concerns about whether the defense secretary should dismiss transgender forces who are currently in the ranks.
Mr. Trump’s decision was roundly denounced by members of both parties, many of whom argued that anyone willing and able to fight for their country should be welcomed into the military.
This policy change will only impact a small number of the 1.3 million men and women serving in uniform in the various service branches. According to a 2016 RAND Corporation study, the number of transgender troops numbers somewhere between 2,000 and 11,000 troops if one includes active duty and reserve troops, for example, while other studies have estimated that the number could be as high as 15,000 troops. Whatever the number, though, it’s clear that this change in policy could have a significant impact on lives and careers of a large number of people, most especially those members of the military who responded to the Obama Administration’s policy change announcement by revealing their transgender status to superior officers or other others in the military. For many of them, it will mean an end to their military career altogether or at least a significant reduction of the opportunities available to them due to the fact that they would be barred from serving in combat units. For others, it will mean continuing to keep their gender identity a secret out of fear that revealing the truth could have a serious impact on their careers or the end of their time in uniform entirely. Absent a hold being placed on the policy change by a Federal Court, which is, of course, the ultimate aim of the lawsuit that was filed earlier this month, the policy will go into effect at some point, and the military will be forced to take a massive step backward on an issue where it was about to make real progress.
In any case, as I’ve said before there is clearly no justification for this change in policy by the Trump Administration. Both the aforementioned RAND Corporation study and other studies have shown that allowing transgender service members to serve openly would have no significant impact on readines, morale, or military performance or readiness. This is much the same thing that similar studies found that there would be any no negative impact from the repeal of the then-existing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding service by gay and lesbian soldiers. The experience that the U.S. military has had since that policy was lifted some six years ago seems to demonstrate clearly that these studies were correct. Additionally, it’s worth noting that many of America’s closest allies, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden and United Kingdom, allow transgender individuals serve openly in the military. None of these nations have reported any problems or issues whatsoever. Given this, implementing the ban as the Trump Administration seeks to do now is not warranted, not justified by the existing and available evidence, and entirely unjust.