Trump Signs Order Barring Transgender Service Members
As anticipated, late yesterday afternoon President Trump formally sent instructions to the Defense Department reimposing the ban on transsexual soldiers in the military, but it’s unclear exactly how that ban will be enacted:
WASHINGTON — President Trump signed a long-awaited directive on Friday that precludes transgender individuals from joining the military but gives Defense Secretary Jim Mattis wide discretion in determining whether those already in the armed forces can continue to serve.
Mr. Mattis’s decisions will be based on several criteria, including military effectiveness and budgetary concerns, a senior White House official said in briefing reporters.
Left unclear was how many of the thousands of transgender service personnel estimated to be in the military might keep serving. By putting the onus on Mr. Mattis, the president appeared to open the door to allowing at least some transgender service members to remain in the military.
Dana W. White, the chief Pentagon spokeswoman, said that Mr. Mattis had received the guidance but did not indicate how he would proceed.
Mr. Trump abruptly announced the ban last month, helping to resolve a fight in Congress over whether taxpayer dollars should be used for gender transition and hormone therapy for transgender service members. Objections from conservatives had threatened a $790 billion defense and security spending package.
Mr. Mattis has six months to develop a plan to implement Mr. Trump’s directive, which also applies to the Department of Homeland Security, where the Coast Guard is housed.
The White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under White House ground rules for the briefing, described the memo as a return to policies in place before the Obama administration moved last year to allow transgender people to serve openly in the military without fear of punishment.
The official also said that the military would no longer pay for sex reassignment surgeries unless withholding such funds would harm the health of someone already transitioning.
Mr. Trump’s directive precludes transgender people from joining the military unless Mr. Mattis, in consultation with the secretary of homeland security, “provides a recommendation to the contrary that I find convincing.”
The president surprised much of the Pentagon last month when he tweeted that the American military could not afford the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” of including transgender members.
Advocates for transgender service members vowed to push back, arguing that the president was disguising discrimination as concern for military readiness.
“Imagine, if you would, if the president tried to pull the same prank on Jewish soldiers or gay and lesbian soldiers or Chinese soldiers or African-American soldiers,” said Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, an organization that successfully lobbied in 2016 to lift the ban on transgender service in the military. “To pull the rug out from under a group of service members who have been defending our country is inconsistent with two centuries of American history.”
The directive requires Mr. Mattis to submit a plan by Feb. 21 for implementing the new policy, including how to address transgender individuals already serving in the armed forces.
In deciding whether any transgender service personnel can stay in the military, the directive says, Mr. Mattis must weigh considerations of “military effectiveness,” “lethality” and “budgetary constraints.”
“Until the secretary has make that determination, no action may be taken against such individuals,” adds the directive.
Late Friday night, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that the Pentagon should finish reviewing the impact of transgender recruits before any policy changes were made.
“It would be a step in the wrong direction to force currently serving transgender individuals to leave the military solely on the basis of their gender identity rather than medical and readiness standards that should always be at the heart of Department of Defense personnel policy,” Mr. McCain said in a statement.
Interestingly enough, the directive from the White House does not direct the Defense Department from dismissing transgender members of the military who have already revealed their status in reliance on the policy change that was announced by the Obama Administration last summer. It also does not specifically say that people must be dismissed from military service if it is discovered that they are transgender. At the same time, though, the law does place these people under a microscope and will no doubt cause them to fear that their careers could come to a swift end because of their decision to rely in good faith on the change in policy announced last year or if their status as transgendered is discovered notwithstanding their efforts to hide it. It also makes it unlikely that such persons will be able to advance in the military even if they aren’t dismissed from service. Of course, it’s possible that all of these things could happen, which is why the lawsuit that has already been filed against the ban is likely only the first of many that we will see regarding this new policy. While it’s hard to say what the ultimate fate of that litigation will be, the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that allowing transgendered Americans to serve openly in the military would have a deleterious impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, or national defense is a strong argument in favor of the argument that this ban is quite simply impermissible and a violation of the principle of equal protection of the laws.
As I noted yesterday, there is simply no evidence to support the idea that open service by transgender Americans would have a negative impact on the military. This is confirmed by a number of studies, including one concluded just last year by the RAND Corporation, as well as by the experiences of dozens of nations around the world that allow open service by transgender troops, including close American allies such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and even Israel. Additionally, the fact that there has been no measurable impact from allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the six years since the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was listed argues strongly that the results would be the same for transgender troops. Of course, Trump’s actions here have nothing to do with concerns about military readiness or the rights of transgender Americans and everything to do with pandering to the far-right base of the Republican Party that put him in office, which will no doubt cheer this decision as loudly as they are cheering his pardon of Joe Arpaio. I’d suggest that they should be ashamed of themselves, but these people clearly have no shame.