Nearly one month after announcing via Twitter he’d ban transgender people from U.S. military, President Trump made good on his promise in a memo to the Pentagon Friday enacting a ban on their service — although the fate of transgender people currently in the armed forces remains to be seen.
In a memo to the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security dated Aug. 25, Trump asserts the Obama administration “failed to identify a sufficient basis” to end the ban on transgender military service in June 2016 and directs the U.S. military to put the prohibition back in place.
“I am directing the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the U.S. Coast Guard, to return to the longstanding policy and practice on military service by transgender individuals that was in place prior to June 2016 until such time as a sufficient basis exists upon which to conclude that terminating that policy and practice would not have the negative effects discussed above,” Trump writes.
Citing dubious concerns openly transgender service will have negative impact on military effectiveness and lethality as well as unit cohesion, Trump concludes “further study is needed to ensure that continued implementation of last year’s policy change would not have those negative effects.”
Under the Obama administration, former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter lifted the longstanding medical regulation barring transgender people serving in the armed forces. The guidance from the White House effectively reverses that decision.
The Trump memo has two major components. The first continues the Pentagon practice of barring openly transgender people from enlisting in the armed forces. Although the Obama change allowed transgender people to come out in the military without fear of discharge, it delayed transgender accession until a later time. That delay — already extended by Defense Secretary James Mattis to continue until 2018 — will now be continued indefinitely.
The second part of the memo bars U.S. government resources “to fund sex reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel” except in case wheres the procedure is necessary to protect the health of an individual already undergoing transition. The memo gives the Pentagon until March 23 to implement this change.
It’s not immediately clear whether this policy means dependents of U.S. service members are also ineligible for U.S. government funds for gender reassignment surgery.
The memo also instructs the Pentagon to prepare by Feb. 21 an implementation plan for the instituting policies aimed at blocking transgender people from open service.
With respect to transgender people who began serving openly in the military after the Obama-era change, the memo gives significantly leeway to the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, which operates the Coast Guard. An estimated 15,000 transgender people currently serve in the U.S. armed forces, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“As part of the implementation plan, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military,” the memo says.
The White House was expected by the end of this week. A senior White House official on Wednesday told the Los Angeles Blade the policy would be made final and sent to Pentagon before Trump left for Camp David over the weekend.
Dana White, assistant for public affairs to the secretary of defense, affirmed the Pentagon had received the memo, but withheld further comment.
“The Department of Defense has received formal guidance from the White House in reference to transgender personnel serving in the military,” White said. “More information will be forth coming.”
Lt. Cmdr. Dave French, chief of media relations for the U.S. Coast Guard, said the service “will work closely” with the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon to implement Trump’s policy.
“As an armed force, the Coast Guard is working in concert with the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and the Department of Defense’s Transgender Working Group to ensure Coast Guard-specific concerns are addressed, as implementation guidance is formulated,” French said. “We will continue to treat all of our personnel with the respect and dignity our diverse workforce deserves.”
French added Coast Guard policy allowing openly transgender people to remain in service, COMDTINST M1000.13, “remains in effect until the implementation plan is developed and executed.”
Transgender rights advocates blasted Trump for instituting the memo, pledging to fight the ban on transgender military service in court.
Matt Thorn, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, said in a statement the policy change against transgender service amounts to “nothing less than a purge” from Trump.
“He is implementing this purge based on bigotry, motivated by agents of an ideology that has no concern for the national defense, and in blatant disregard of the experience of career officers who spent more than a year developing and implementing the current policy,” Thorn said.
Denying “a man with a demonstrated incompetence in managing the small staff of the White House should have any credibility” in leading the U.S. military, Thorn said a joint lawsuit is forthcoming from his organization and the LGBT legal group Lambda Legal.
Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association, called on Congress or the courts to take action to reverse Trump’s policy.
“This horrifying, vicious assault on thousands of actively serving troops has turned from reckless tweets into an unabashedly discriminatory policy aiming to purge the military of thousands of transgender men and women,” Broadway-Mack said in a statement. “We unequivocally condemn this ban as an unpatriotic attack on currently serving troops and qualified transgender recruits who want to serve their country.”
Attorneys for National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, which had already filed a lawsuit against Trump ahead of the guidance, said their current litigation will stop the ban.
“This policy is a shameful slap in the face to people who put their lives on the line everyday to defend our country,” said Jennifer Levi, GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director. “Our military is strongest when all people who are fit to serve have the opportunity to do so. This unprecedented policy amounts to a purge of qualified, contributing troops, and will serve only to undermine unit cohesion and weaken military readiness.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also condemned the policy change in a statement, insisting the transgender ban is based on “prejudice, not the national defense.”
“A study commissioned by the Department of Defense itself found that the cost of providing medically necessary care for transgender troops would be miniscule,” Pelosi said. “In fact, every year, the Pentagon spends five times more on Viagra than they would for transition-related care. The President of the United States should have more respect for the transgender men and women who had the patriotism and bravery to serve our country in uniform.”