On Wednesday, President Trump announced in a series of three tweets that the United States military will no longer allow transgender people to serve “in any capacity” on the grounds that transgender troops cause the military to “be burdened with tremendous medical costs and disruption.”
Transgender people have only been allowed to serve openly in the Armed Forces since last year, when the Obama administration announced that transgender Americans could “no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military just for being transgender.” The policy change was just one in a series of Obama-era evolutions expanding opportunities for LGBT Americans hoping to enlist.
Now those protocols hang in the balance as legislators and military officers alike determine whether they are obligated to follow policy made on Twitter and without Congressional approval.
Despite Trump’s assertion that his decision was made “after consultation with…Generals and military experts,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the US Department of Defense reacted to the announcement with surprise and hesitation. Chairman General Joseph Dunford informed service members that there will 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,” CNN reported.
“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” Dunford said.
James Mattis, Trump’s Secretary of Defense, was on vacation at the time of the announcement. Although Mattis has not yet made a formal comment on the tweets, sources informed The New York Times that the Secretary was “appalled” at the decision, in part because it sent the message to transgender service members “that they were suddenly no longer welcome.”
While the Obama-era policy allowing transgender Americans to enlist immediately, a year-long process of training and implementation was set in motion. In late June, at the year mark, Mattis agreed to delay the full implementation of the policy for six months, citing the “views of the military leadership and of the senior civilian officials now arriving in the Department.”
Still, the policy’s demise was no foregone conclusion. Mattis has been an outspoken defendant of transgender troops’ rights, most recently opposing a failed bill that would have denied transgender service members healthcare coverage for medical treatment related to transitioning.
Last year, the Department of Defense commissioned a study through the RAND Corporation to determine the impact transgender troops would make on healthcare costs and general readiness in the US Military. The study, which estimates the number of transgender service members to be somewhere between 1,320 and 6,630, determined that covering transition costs for transgender troops would raise military health care costs by approximately 0.04 to 0.13 percent. RAND similarly found that the inclusion of transgender service members would have “little to no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.”
Many conservative groups greeted Trump’s announcement with praise. Family Research Council (FRC), a Christian lobbying group that says transgender identity is “a mental disorder” and “delusional,” lauded Trump’s move to “free the troops from the shackles of the Obama years.”
“The American people knew what they were getting when they elected Donald Trump: a brassy, politically-incorrect, outsider,” the FRC wrote in a statement Thursday. “This president is going to keep building on his legacy of privacy, common sense defense, pro-life protections, and judicial stalwarts.”
Some conservative politicians, however, spoke out against the decision. Republican Senator John McCain said that the tweets are “yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter.”
“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,” the former Navy captain continued.
Active and retired transgender military service members also spoke out against the announcement. In an interview with Business Insider, retired Navy SEAL Kristin Beck, a transgender woman, said her receipt of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart awards had nothing to do with her gender identity.
“I was defending individual liberty,” Beck said. “I defended for Republicans. I defended for Democrats. I defended for everyone.”
She also shared a message with President Trump. “Let’s meet face to face and you tell me I’m not worthy,” Beck said.
On Twitter, an outpouring of support for transgender troops came from celebrities, bloggers, former and current service members, and LGBT activists. Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans wrote, “Transgender friends: You are loved & valued & whole.” Actor George Takei called the announcement “cruel and petty.” Actress and activist Laverne Cox wrote, “My fellow trans Americans despite what some may say your existence is valuable. Your lives, safety, & service matter. #TransIsBeautiful.”
Since the announcement, Senators have made a bipartisan push for the decision to pass review from the Pentagon before any changes are enacted.
--by Caroline Matas
Image Source: Gay vet supporting trans rights. Photo by Ted Eytan, Flickr Creative Commons.