February 21, 2018 at 4:28 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
No recommendation from Mattis yet on trans military service
James Mattis, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made recommendations to Trump on trans military service. (Photo courtesy Department of Defense)

Defense Secretary James Mattis is poised to make recommendations to the White House this week on transgender military service, although that hasn’t happened as of Wednesday afternoon despite a deadline of that day, a defense official said.

Maj. David Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the Mattis recommendation is forthcoming, but not yet submitted.

“The secretary hasn’t made his recommendation to the president yet,” Eastburn said. “It will happen sometime this week.”

Trump’s directive in August seeking to ban transgender military service called for recommendations on the implementing the policy by the date of Feb. 21 — which is Wednesday — in preparation for enacting the policy on March 23.

Mattis was initially supposed to meet with Trump on Tuesday, but had a scheduling conflict and ended up having to reschedule, Eastburn said.

Although Mattis is poised to deliver his recommendation to Trump, the Pentagon is tight-lipped on the nature of his advice. Pentagon officials and court documents in litigation challenging Trump’s ban have indicated a new policy is coming, but what the change consists of and whether that’s in line with Mattis’ views is unclear.

Eastburn said he doesn’t know the nature of Mattis’ recommendations because they’re being kept under wraps as a confidential conversation.

“It’s a conversation between the secretary and the president, and those are always private, so we won’t know until the president makes his announcement no later than the 23rd of March,” Eastburn said.

The form of recommendation, Eastburn said, won’t be “a formal process” that constitutes a memorandum or report, but a less formal private recommendation on Trump on transgender military service.

Sources familiar with the issue told the Blade several versions of recommendations were presented to Mattis, but the nature of those choices isn’t certain and it isn’t known which he decided to select.

Mattis is poised to deliver recommendations on the heels of a Buzzfeed report indicating Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford believed Trump’s announcement on banning on transgender service was “unexpected” and was not consulted, contradicting Trump’s assertion decided on the ban after consulting military leaders.

Regardless of Mattis’ recommendation to Trump or any new policy on transgender service he may implement, multiple courts have enjoined the U.S. military from enforcing Trump’s ban as a result of litigation filed by LGBT legal groups.

That means transgender people will be able to serve in the U.S. military without fear of discharge over their gender identity and obtain transition-related care, including gender reassignment surgery, even if Trump attempts to modify his policy with a kind of “Trans Ban 2.0.”

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said “regardless of the plan’s details” the armed forces is prohibited from any attempt to ban transgender people in the aftermath of four court rulings against Trump’s policy.

“Those orders remain in effect and will prevent any enforcement of the ban while the cases proceed,” Minter said. “In the meantime, transgender service members continue to fulfill their duties and serve our country despite being stigmatized and demeaned by their own commander in chief, and the ban continues to undermine our nation’s military and the integrity of military decision making. ”

Minter added he hopes Mattis “recommended that President Trump rescind the ban, and we hope the president will do so.”

One issue that might come up in any future policy is transgender troops who are non-deployable because they’re going through gender transition. Under new “deploy-or-out” rules implemented by Mattis, a member of the armed forces who’s non-deployable for 12 months or more will be separated from the armed forces.

If transgender service members go through transition and can’t be deployable for more than 12 months, they may face expulsion from the U.S. armed forces under that”deploy-or-out” policy.

Frank Gaffney, CEO of the far-right think-tank Center for Security Policy, seized upon the “deploy-or-out” policy in a statement Wednesday against transgender military service.

“This initiative will reestablish readiness as the uniformed services’ top priority, not social engineering that impairs it,” Gaffney said. “It would apply to so-called ‘transgender’ individuals afflicted with the clinical condition known as ‘gender dysphoria’ who are routinely unable to work, let alone deploy, due to hormone treatments, surgeries, psychological care, etc.”

Matthew Thorn, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, said Mattis should recommend policy on transgender military service should be consistent with court orders, but there’s no expectation Trump will accept that.

“Ultimately, the president outlined in his guidance what he wants,” Thorn said. “No matter what Secretary Mattis recommends to the president we believe that the president will continue to push for his discriminatory and ill informed policy as he laid out in August 2017. In that event, we will continue with our lawsuit with Lambda Legal, as will the others, and already the courts have not bought into the president’s position. We will continue this fight as long as necessary.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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