President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday, July 26, that he would reverse the Obama administration’s decision to repeal the ban against transgender individuals serving in the American military. This decision continues the Trump administration’s trend toward repealing LGBT rights; earlier this year, the administration repealed the Obama administration’s policy that allowed transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender identity rather than their physical sex.
President Trump announced this decision via his personal twitter account, stating through a series of tweets: “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. 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. Thank you.”
Despite what the president claims in his tweets, his generals appear to have not been consulted on the matter. According to CNN, “The Joint Chiefs of Staff, including chairman General Joseph Dunford, were not aware President Donald Trump planned to tweet a ban on transgender service members.” General Dunford proceeded to comment on service members that there would be “no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidelines.” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley noted on Thursday that he learned of President Trump’s intended ban through the media, not through any official channels, and he commented that he had not yet received any directions for implementation of such a ban. It has been made clear that there will be no change to the current policy until such a ban was to make its way through official channels.
The ban on the service of openly transgender individuals in the military was ended by Ash Carter, Defense Secretary under former President Obama, last year. However, the Pentagon was granted a year-long review process so that it might determine how best to accept new transgender recruits into the military. Current Defense Secretary James Mattis delayed implementation of the new policy last month, on the eve of the end of the one-year deadline enacted by Carter. Mattis cited the need “to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality” as the reason for the six-month policy review. Air Force General Paul Selva claimed that the delay was not an instance of continued discrimination against transgender individuals, but rather “was largely based on a disagreement on the science of how mental health care and hormone therapy for transgender individuals would help solve the medical issues that are associated with gender dysphoria.”
Those “medical issues” are at the heart of President Trump’s decision to reinstate the ban, or so he claims. However, studies have proved that there would be no such “tremendous military costs” as a result of allowing transgender individuals to serve in the armed forces. A 2016 Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Defense Department showed that such allowances would have a “minimal impact” on military costs, because the number of transgender individuals in the military is so low, estimated between 1,320 and 6,630 people. They estimated that the number of new hormone treatments per year would fall between 30 to 140 and that surgeries would be between 25 to 130 among active service members. They cited the total cost as an “exceedingly small proportion” of medical expenditures in the military, ranging from an estimated $2.4 to $8.4 million.
As Politico has noted, Congress has the power to “delay or even undo” such a ban, were the Trump administration to formally begin the process through official channels. Indeed, Congress has already been advised to do so: the new Congressional Research Paper states that “given this announcement, Congress may wish to consider the potential effects of the policy shift and whether to take legislative action in response,” adding that “Congress may draft legislation to affect such Administration policy, under its authority to make laws governing the armed forces.”
When the issue of the ban is considered in its entirety, it becomes clear that it is an issue of discrimination rather than one of military readiness and lethality or medical expenditures. Joshua Block, the senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, responded to the intended military ban by saying, “Let us be clear. This has been studied extensively, and the consensus is clear: There are no cost or military readiness drawbacks associated with allowing trans people to fight for their country. The President is trying to score cheap political points on the backs of military personnel who have put their lives on the line for their country.”
President Trump’s attempt to win the favour of his own party failed, as Senator John McCain spoke out against the ban. He stated that “Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity. We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are.” According to CNN, Senator McCain was “joined by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle” in resisting a reinstatement of the ban.
However, this discrimination against transgender individuals–and indeed all LGBT individuals–is not without national support. President Trump’s administration was not the only entity in the government to recently deny bathroom rights to transgender individuals. North Carolina has been under extreme and continuous backlash for its bathroom bill last year, and while it partially repealed the bill earlier this year, it did not do so fully. Despite the precedent set by North Carolina and the economic losses it suffered due to the severe boycotting of its businesses in response to the bill, other states have instituted similar bills restricting the rights of transgender individuals. The Washington Post notes that “in just the 2017 legislative session, 16 states are considering similar legislation.”
Still, the lack of support for the ban from many members of Congress in both parties, as well as from the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, lends hope to LGBT activists that the ban will not successfully be reinstated, no matter President Trump’s intent.