Trump bans transgender people from serving in military

Trump bans transgender people from serving in military

President Donald Trump departs from the Pentagon alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Jan. 27 in Washington, D.C. (DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jette Carr)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced on Twitter Wednesday that transgender people will no longer be able to serve in the military “in any capacity.”

The policy reverses a decision reached by the Pentagon under the Barack Obama administration last June to allow transgender people to serve openly with plans of ultimately allowing individuals who identify as transgender but are not already enlisted to eventually join the military.

Trump said that the military must focus on “victory,” and that the military cannot be burdened with the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” that transgender service members would cause.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Trump’s statement offered no clarity about what this policy shift might mean for the estimated thousands of transgender troops serving both openly and closeted in the armed forces. The Pentagon directed all questions to the White House.

“We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military,” said Pentagon spokesperson Navy Capt. Jeff Davis. “We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future.”

Trump made the abrupt decision in order to quell disagreement in Congress about whether taxpayer money should be used to cover hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery for transgender troops, according to reporting by Politico. The dispute had threatened to derail a $790 billion defense and security spending bill scheduled for a vote this week.

On Tuesday, Foreign Policy reported that Vice President Mike Pence was actively working on Capitol Hill to reverse the Pentagon’s policies on transgender service members.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced last month a delay on allowing transgender people to enlist until at least January 2018 while the military reviewed the impact that enlistment would have on the military’s lethality. Mattis did not, however, rescind the ability for transgender individuals currently enlisted to continue to do so openly.

There are between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender service members in the active duty military and 1,510 in the reserves, according to a 2016 Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Defense Department. The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law has put the estimate number of transgender service members at 15,000 people.

The Rand Corp. study study found that allowing transgender persons to serve openly would have “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs,” with a $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year spending increase (0.04 to 0.13 percent).

Some Republicans cheered the president’s decision, but the policy change has also been met with confusion and criticism among Congressional Democrats and a number of Republicans alike.

Sen. Joni Ernst’s (R-Iowa) office said in statement to The Des Moines Register that while she does not support the federal government covering the costs associated with gender reassignment surgery, “Americans who are qualified and can meet the standard to serve in the military should be afforded that opportunity.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said in a statement that the President’s “unclear” tweets are “yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made” via the social media platform. “Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving,” he said.

The military’s second highest uniformed officer, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Paul Selva, told Congress two weeks ago that the military had delayed opening the service to transgender recruits while it resolved internal disputes over the efficacy of mental health care and hormone therapy in resolving medical issues associated with gender dysphoria.

In June of this year, the highest ranking uniformed officer, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, told the National Press Club that a number of military service chiefs had raised concerns about openly transgender recruits entering the military. He said that there was no review underway to prohibit transgender individuals already in the armed forces from openly serving.

“Transgender personnel are serving right now and there is no review ongoing that would affect the ability of those currently serving to continue serving, provided they can meet the physical and mental qualifications of service,” Dunford said.

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who ended the ban on transgender service while working under Obama, stood by his decision in a statement Wednesday. He argued that opening the service to as many qualified people as possible is the best route to strengthen the all volunteer force.

“To choose service members on other grounds than military qualifications is a social policy that has no place in our military,” Carter said. “… This action would also send the wrong signal to a younger generation thinking about military service.”

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has said that it will challenge the policy in court if the Defense Department moves forward with implementation.

Loree Lewis contributed to this report.

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