Donald Trump has signed off on a memo directing the Department of Defense not to bring new transgender recuits into the military and banning transition-related health care for trans people currently serving, while possibly allowing some of the latter to remain in the armed forces, CNN reports.
The memo instructs the departments of Defense and Homeland Security "to determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving based on military effectiveness and lethality, unitary cohesion, budgetary constraints, applicable law, and all factors that may be relevant," said a White House official who briefed reporters Friday evening. The official declined to say if these guidelines meant some trans people could remain in the military.
In general, though, the memo signals a return to the ban on trans troops that stood until President Barack Obama’s administration lifted it last year. “I am directing the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the U.S. Coast Guard, to return to the longstanding policy and practice on military service by transgender individuals that was in place prior to June 2016 until such time as a sufficient basis exists upon which to conclude that terminating that policy and practice would not have the negative effects discussed above,” it reads, as quoted by the Washington Blade. The directive will put into force the ban announced by Trump via Twitter July 26, and appears to be largely what was predicted Wednesday, when reports about the memo first surfaced in the media.
These supposed “negative effects” include concerns that the presence of trans troops would undermine the armed forces’ effectiveness, lethality, and cohesion — concerns that were addressed and dismissed by Obama’s Defense Secretary Ash Carter and other military officials when the ban was lifted. Because the ban was a military regulation, not a law enacted by Congress (such as the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law regarding lesbian, gay, and bisexual troops), congressional action was not required to lift or reinstate it.
The Trump memo does give the Defense Department and Homeland Security — the latter operates the Coast Guard — some flexibility in dealing with trans troops who are currently serving. “As part of the implementation plan, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military,” it says, according to the Blade. But the memo also instructs the departments to craft a plan by February 21 to block future service by trans people.
An estimated 15,000 trans people are in the U.S. armed forces. Most were serving in the closet before the Obama administration lifted the ban, allowing them to be open about their identity without risking discharge. When Carter announced the end of the ban, he said enrollment of new trans recruits would begin July 1 of this year. However, James Mattis, who is now Defense secretary under Trump, delayed that for six months, and now, with the ban’s reinstatement, it will be delayed indefinitely.
LGBT rights supporters were quick to condemn today’s action and promise to continue fighting the ban.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders have already filed a lawsuit challenging the ban on behalf of several trans service members, and that suit “has the power” to stop the ban, said a statement issued by NCLR legal director Shannon Minter. “This is a senseless and unprecedented attack on dedicated service members who have played by the rules,” he continued. “Our military already has standards and systems in place to ensure our troops are qualified and fit to serve. Trump's ban is about politics, not military policy, and it will make our country less secure."
“This policy is a shameful slap in the face to people who put their lives on the line everyday to defend our country,” added Jennifer Levi, GLAD transgender rights project director. “Our military is strongest when all people who are fit to serve have the opportunity to do so. This unprecedented policy amounts to a purge of qualified, contributing troops, and will serve only to undermine unit cohesion and weaken military readiness. We are moving quickly with our plaintiffs to see that a court puts a stop to this latest demonstration of President Trump playing politics with people’s lives.”
Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN are also preparing a joint lawsuit and will file it “swiftly,” said OutServe-SLDN executive director Matt Thorn. “The president’s order to remove transgender service members from the United States armed forces and deny them health care is nothing less than a purge,” Thorn said in a statement. “He is implementing this purge based on bigotry, motivated by agents of an ideology that has no concern for the national defense, and in blatant disregard of the experience of career officers who spent more than a year developing and implementing the current policy.”
Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez issued this statement: “This order is a moral abomination, a threat to our national security, and an outright betrayal of all those who wear our nation's uniform. Transgender Americans already bravely serve in our armed forces and risk their lives every day to protect the American people, but yet, our president turns a blind eye. Democrats will fight this enormous step backwards and won’t stop until LGBTQ people have full equality in America and all capable people can serve our country openly.” Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a decorated wounded veteran, has called on Congress to block implementation of the ban.
And there was this statement from Stephen Peters, the Human Rights Campaign’s National Press Secretary Stephen Peters, a Marine veteran: “Donald Trump and Mike Pence are forcing their hate, bigotry, and discrimination onto the military with this transgender ban. Secretary Mattis has a solemn responsibility to protect transgender troops from this vile political attack. We have a responsibility to treat every service member with the honor, respect, and benefits they have earned. And no qualified and talented American should be turned away from the military just because of their gender identity. Donald Trump’s attack on currently serving troops and his refusal to treat every service member equally proves once again he is unfit to be commander in chief.” Eighteen other countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Israel, allow trans people to serve openly, Peters noted.
Many retired military officers have spoken out against reinstatement of the ban, and currently serving ones have expressed doubts about the need for it, with the heads of the Navy and Coast Guard both making supportive statements about trans people in their branches. Several Republican lawmakers have joined Democrats in condemning renewal of the ban. But religious right groups — an important constituency for Trump and Pence — lobbied for it heavily.