Three years after President Trump tweeted out a ban on transgender people in the military “in any capacity,” the White House says he’s sticking with the policy despite anger from critics who say it amounts to anti-transgender discrimination.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere confirmed via email to the Washington Blade late Tuesday the Trump administration has no plans to change its policy against transgender military service.
“Current policy regarding transgender military service was developed in consultation with senior military officials, medical experts, and combat veterans who determined that the previous policy eroded military readiness and unit cohesion,” Deere said. “The White House has no policy announcements at this time.”
In contrast, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has said he’d allow transgender people to serve openly in the military during his administration.
Deere commented on the transgender military ban in response to a multiple questions from the Washington Blade on whether Trump would revisit the policy three years after tweeting it out on July, 26, 2017.
The Blade earlier this month posed the question to White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany — who dodged the inquiry, but insisted Trump is pro-LGBTQ — and Trump himself prior to his departure Monday on Marine One. Trump made the dubious claim he couldn’t hear the question.
The White House response affirming the transgender military ban is consistent with the conclusions from former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who after a six-month review determined “there are substantial risks” with having transgender people in the armed forces.
“[T]he Department also finds that exempting such persons from well-established mental health, physical health and sex-based standards, which apply to all service members, including transgender service members without gender dysphoria, could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion and impose an unreasonable burden on the military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality,” Mattis wrote.
The conclusions of the Mattis report fly in the face of the determination from former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who after a year-long review proceeded toward open service for transgender troops in the last year of the Obama administration.
As a result of the Matts policy, the Pentagon subsequently implemented a complex set of restrictions on transgender troops amounting to a ban, even though the Defense Department has disputed that characterization of the policy and called it a broad-based medical standard for all troops.
Current policy requires the discharge of any service member who’s diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a defining characteristic of being transgender, or seeks transition-related care. Individuals with a history of gender dysphoria can only enlist if they’re willing to serve in accordance with their sex designated at birth (which few transgender people would be willing to do).
The policy has an exemption to allow transgender service members to continue serving if they came out when open service was instituted in 2016 under the Obama administration. Additionally, the policy allows senior defense officials to grant waivers to transgender individuals facing discharge wishing to enlist in the armed forces.
Despite the assertions from the White House and the Mattis report, other evidence and experts indicate transgender service would have no negative impact on the military.
Each of the military service chiefs testified under questioning from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in 2018 they had no seen reports transgender service had disrupted unit cohesion during the period of open service during the Obama administration. Moreover, a Defense Department-funded poll earlier this year from found about two-thirds of active-duty soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines support the idea of serving alongside transgender personnel.
As for military readiness, transgender service members who testified before Congress said the time they needed to transition was minimal. Each responded they were out of commission for a small length of time and often used personal vacation time for the care and recovery.
Subsequent to the enactment of the transgender military ban, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, however, did issue warnings about transgender service, raising concerns about unit cohesion and military readiness.
An estimated 14,700 transgender service members have been grandfathered in the military as a result of the Obama-era policy. Upwards of 70 precent of Americans support transgender military service and major medical and psychological associations say there’s no issue with transgender military service.
Also making the transgender ban legally dubious is the recent ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in Bostock v. Clayton County, which determined anti-transgender discrimination is a form of sex discrimination under the law. Although the ruling has no direct impact on the military, the legal precedent should require the courts to examine the ban with heightened scrutiny, or a greater assumption it’s unconstitutional.
According to a recent report from the San Francisco-based Palm Center, lifting the transgender military ban would be a easy task and Biden could accomplish it within the first 30 days of his administration. The underlying policy of open service is underneath the Trump ban, the report says, so open service could be restored simply by revoking the Trump directive.
“A big ship can take time to turn around, so often the Pentagon needs to study policy changes and move cautiously,” Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said in a statement. “But this is the rare case where, since the military left inclusive policy for already-serving transgender personnel in place even as it implemented its ban, the switch is just waiting to be flipped.”