President Donald Trump on Friday issued orders to ban transgender troops who require surgery or significant medical treatment from serving in the military except in select cases — following through on a controversial pledge last year that has been under review by the Pentagon and is being fought out in the courts.
The memorandum, which drew swift condemnation from gender rights groups, states that while the secretary of defense and other executive branch officials will have some latitude in implementing the policy, “persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — including individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery — are disqualified from military service except under limited circumstances.”
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The memo also said that Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, “in the exercise of his independent judgment, has concluded [the policies] should be adopted by the Department of Defense.” It added that “the Secretary of Homeland Security concurs with these policies with respect to the U.S. Coast Guard,” which would also be affected by the policy.
The decision comes after a number of top military officials over the past year– including most members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — have gone out of their way to defend the thousands of transgender troops who are believed to be serving in the military.
But in a subsequent statement, the White House press office on Friday explained that the policy was “developed through extensive study by senior uniformed and civilian leaders, including combat veterans.”
“The experts’ study sets forth a policy to enhance our military’s readiness, lethality, and effectiveness,” it continued, adding that officials “concluded that the accession or retention of individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — those who may require substantial medical treatment, including through medical drugs or surgery — presents considerable risk to military effectiveness and lethality.”
“This new policy,” the White House statement added, “will enable the military to apply well-established mental and physical health standards — including those regarding the use of medical drugs — equally to all individuals who want to join and fight for the best military force the world has ever seen.”
LGBT advocates who have sought to head off such a move in the courts swiftly slammed the decision, calling it “appalling, reckless and unpatriotic.”
“Donald Trump and Mike Pence are literally wreaking havoc on the lives of our military families,” said Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the American Military Partner Association. “This unconscionable attack on our military families cannot stand — we refuse to allow it.”
Matt Thorn, president of OutServe-SLDN, said: “This policy is a thinly veiled and feeble attempt by the Trump-Pence administration to justify the unnecessary discrimination of qualified patriots in order to advance their own personal agendas and in defiance of the administration’s top military leadership. We are calling this what it is — an attempt to legitimize an unwarranted and unnecessary attack that targets individuals who have volunteered their lives in support of this country.”
“This Trump-Pence plan categorically bans transgender people from service, with no legitimate basis,” added Jennifer Levi, transgender right project director for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, in a statement. “It requires the discharge of trained, skilled troops who have served honorably for decades. It’s a gross mischaracterization of transgender people, and it’s bad for our. military.”
The news also prompted concern on Capitol Hill. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, a Democrat from California and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that “the ban, which implements the same policy that was blocked by several courts, runs counter to the American values that our troops are fighting to protect.”
The ban on transgender troops was lifted in June 2016 when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter permitted those already in uniform to begin serving openly and ordered the military branches to begin preparing to accept new recruits by July 1, 2017.
A 2016 study conducted by the government-funded RAND Corporation for the Pentagon estimated that nearly 4,000 transgender troops were serving on active duty and in the reserves. Military LGBT advocacy groups put the estimate much higher, at around 15,000.
After taking office in early 2017, Mattis in June delayed the deadline for accepting new recruits another six months, just before President Donald Trump declared in a surprise tweet in July that transgender individuals would no longer be able to serve in the military “in any capacity.”
The White House followed the tweet with formal guidance in August, directing the Pentagon to develop a plan to bar transgender individuals from serving and end government-funded sex reassignment surgeries for troops, except to protect the health of a service member who had already begun transition.
Mattis announced shortly after receiving the memo that transgender troops could continue serving while the Pentagon studied the issue. Since then, at least one transgender service member underwent sex reassignment surgery.
Trump’s efforts have faced a number of serious setbacks, including multiple lawsuits arguing that banning a group of people from the military on the basis of their gender identity is unconstitutional.
Four federal courts have already issued preliminary injunctions in cases filed by GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights in Washington, D.C.; the American Civil Liberties Union and Covington and Burling LLP in Maryland; Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN in Washington; and Equality California in California.
Under the court rulings the Pentagon was required to begin accepting transgender recruits on Jan. 1 — and has reportedly accepted at least one transgender recruit so far this year.
Friday’s announcement does not change current regulations because the Pentagon is abiding by the court rulings.
“The Department of Defense will continue to comply with the federal court ruling and continue to assess and retain transgender service members,” said Maj. Dave Eastborn, a Pentagon spokesman.
As those cases proceed, many expect the issue to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Indeed, Trump’s Justice Department vowed after the announcement to continue fighting “to defend DOD’s lawful authority to create and implement personnel policies they have determined are necessary to best defend our nation.”
“We are asking the courts to lift all related preliminary injunctions in order to ensure the safety and security of the American people and the best fighting force in the world,” the statement added.
The pushback, however is now likely to just pick up even more steam.
“We ought to provide the opportunity to everyone to be able to serve this country in uniform,” Leon Panetta, who served as secretary of defense before Carter, told POLITICO on Friday. “They are there, serving their country and serving it well. It doesn’t make a hell of lot of sense to throw people out of the service who are doing a good job.”
He disputed the argument that accommodating transgender men and women in uniform is too much of a burden.
“We went through that with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” he said of the decision in 2011 to allow gays to serve openly. “We worked through it with issues of race. We worked through it with women. We have always found a way. And in the end people have been able to serve their country and that is what counts.”
The Democratic National Committee also weighed in late Friday, calling the decision “an insult to our brave transgender service members and all who wear our nation’s uniform,” adding that “discrimination is not a national security strategy.”
Source Article from https://www.politico.com/story/2018/03/23/trump-transgender-troops-ban-483434