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Mattis Says Trans Troops Can Continue Serving for Now

Mattis and Trump

Transgender members of the armed forces can continue serving while a panel of military experts determines the next move, Defense Secretary James Mattis said today.

Mattis released a statement, posted on the Defense Department’s website, that somewhat clarifies the memo signed Friday by Donald Trump instructing the departments of Defense and Homeland Security to reinstate the ban on service by trans people, which was lifted by Ash Carter, Defense secretary under President Barack Obama, in 2016.

Mattis’s statement said he had received the memo but that while his panel studies the matter, “current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.” The full statement is below.

The Department of Defense has received the Presidential Memorandum, dated August 25, 2017, entitled “Military Service by Transgender Individuals.”  The department will carry out the president’s policy direction, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security.  As directed, we will develop a study and implementation plan, which will contain the steps that will promote military readiness, lethality, and unit cohesion, with due regard for budgetary constraints and consistent with applicable law.  The soon arriving senior civilian leadership of DOD will play an important role in this effort.  The implementation plan will address accessions of transgender individuals and transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military.

Our focus must always be on what is best for the military’s combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield.  To that end, I will establish a panel of experts serving within the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president’s direction.  Panel members will bring mature experience, most notably in combat and deployed operations, and seasoned judgment to this task.  The panel will assemble and thoroughly analyze all pertinent data, quantifiable and non-quantifiable.  Further information on the panel will be forthcoming.

Once the panel reports its recommendations and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning implementation of his policy direction.  In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.   I expect to issue interim guidance to the force concerning the president’s direction, including any necessary interim adjustments to procedures, to ensure the continued combat readiness of the force until our final policy on this subject is issued.

Mattis’s action “buys time for the Pentagon to determine how and if it will allow thousands of transgender troops to continue to serve, whether they will receive medical treatment, or how they will be discharged,” USA Today reports.

Trump’s Friday memo directed the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security to “determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military.” It also, however, instructed them to craft a plan by February 21 to block future service by trans people. And it continues blocking enrollment of new trans service members and bans the use of federal funds to cover transition-related health care.

In announcing the new trans ban via Twitter July 26, Trump cited military leaders’ concerns about the impact of ending the ban, but he actually caught most of these leaders by surprise. The heads of the Navy and Coast Guard have made supportive comments about trans service members. He also cited the cost of health care, but expert studies have predicted it would be minimal. For one thing, not all trans service members would seek transition-related procedures.

An estimated 15,000 trans people are serving in the military, with most of them having been serving in the closet until the ban was rolled back last year. Enrollment of new trans service members was supposed to begin July 1 of this year, but shortly before that date, Mattis announced that enrollment would be delayed by six months — and Trump’s policy now delays it indefinitely.

Three lawsuits have been filed challenging the ban, and U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois has called on Congress to block it. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have denounced it. 

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