The Pentagon initiated Friday the transgender military ban in accordance with Trump administration plans for the policy, returning the U.S. military to restrictions on LGBT service that harken to the days of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Transgender service members — who had been able to serve openly and obtain transition-related health care since the final year of the Obama administration in 2016 — will now face significant impediments on their service and an outright ban for many of them seeking to enlist.
Aaron Belkin, director of the San Francisco-based Palm Center, said in a statement Friday the policy marks a retreat on civil rights after three years of transgender service with no problems.
“In implementing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ for transgender troops today, the Trump administration has put petty politics above military readiness, and personal prejudice above the genuine judgment of military leaders, who have made clear that inclusive service has succeeded for the last three years,” Belkin said. “Today our nation lurches backwards in a disgraceful retreat from the arc of our civil rights history.”
Although the Trump policy is now in effect, Belkin foresaw a day in which the ban would come to an end.
“Our hearts break for the courageous transgender patriots who want nothing more than to defend their country, and we pledge not to rest until inclusive policy is restored,” Belkin said. “The transgender ban won’t stand for long.”
In 2017, President Trump announced via Twitter he’d ban transgender people from the military “in any capacity.” Months later, former Defense Secretary James Mattis produced a report on the implementing the policy — allowing limited retentions of transgender troops — after an internal study at the Pentagon.
Although courts had previously barred the Trump administration from enforcing the policy as a result of lawsuits filed by LGBT legal groups, the orders were lifted after the U.S. Supreme Court essentially green-lighted the policy by allowing to go into effect as litigation proceeds against it. Subsequently, the Pentagon issued guidance announcing it would implement the ban on April 12.
The Defense Department has insisted the new policy is a medical-based policy applied to every service member, even though the policy applies to conditions faced solely by transgender people, and is not a ban, even though it bars many transgender people from service.
As described by the Pentagon, the policy discharges service members who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria or are prescribed transition-related care at a later time. For enlistments, a history of gender dysphoria unless the individuals are willing to serve in their biological sex (an extremely small number of transgender people), and people who obtained transitioned genders are outright banned.
The transgender ban contains an exemption that allows transgender people who came out during the Obama-era policy to continue to serve and receive transition-related care. But those troops could face complications, such as if they seek promotions, want to change services or drop out to pursue educational opportunities and seek to re-enlist.
Lt Col Carla Gleason, a Pentagon spokesperson, confirmed to the Washington Blade Friday the policy is now in effect, but insisted transgender people will be grandfathered in service when asked about any denial of enlistments or discharges on the first day.
“Transgender members currently serving will be able to continue serving so we do not anticipate any discharges,” the spokesperson said. “I am not yet aware of any denials.”
The American Medical Association, which previously said there was no medical basis on which to ban transgender people from the armed forces, issued a statement on Thursday condemning the principles on which the policy is based.
“The DOD regulation also instructs service secretaries to add gender-dysphoria to service-specific lists of ‘administratively disqualifying conditions’ that DoD regulations label ‘congenital or developmental defects,’” AMA President Barbara McAneny said. “The only thing deficient is any medical science behind this decision. The AMA has said repeatedly that there is no medically valid reason — including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria– to exclude transgender individuals from military service. Transgender service members should, as is the case with all personnel, receive the medical care they need. There is a global medical consensus about the efficacy of transgender health care, including treatment for gender dysphoria.”