Some transgender people will be able to continue serving in the military under White House guidance on implementing a very slightly watered-down version of the ban announced recently by Donald Trump. But the armed forces will still be closed to most trans people, and unsurprisingly, the ban has Mike Pence’s fingerprints all over it, the Los Angeles Blade reports.
A memo headed from the White House to Defense Secretary James Mattis directs him and his staff to determine if trans troops are able to serve in a war zone or manage months aboard ship, and allow these “deployable” troops to continue serving, the Blade reports, citing a paywall-blocked Wall Street Journal article.
However, the memo also prohibits government spending on transition-related health care for active-duty trans service members, continues to block the recruitment of new trans troops, and directs the military not to renew the enlistment contracts of any trans people serving. It gives Mattis and the Department of Defense six months to come up with a policy within these parameters. The memo may be delivered as early as Thursday or Friday, according to the Blade.
Trump announced reinstatement of the trans ban via Twitter July 26, a little over a year after Ash Carter, secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama, announced its lifting. The lifting meant trans troops who had been serving in the closet could be open about their identity without fear of discharge and obtain insurance coverage for transition-related health care; only a fraction were expected to use the coverage. Carter also had said enrollment of new trans troops could begin July 1 of this year, but as that date approached, Mattis announced that he was delaying it for six months. Then Trump announced the ban, citing costs and impact on military readiness, even though studies had indicated both would be minimal.
A source told Blade reporter Karen Ocamb that Vice President Pence, well known for his anti-LGBT actions as a congressman and governor of Indiana, bears responsibility for the ban.
“The White House senior official source — who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity — said Vice President Mike Pence is the driving force behind the ban,” Ocamb reports. “In fact, he has been spearheading the trans ban reinstatement since last May, at the behest of conservative leaders such as Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and scores of retired anti-LGBT military officers.”
“Trump’s fear of his evangelical base is more powerful than his promises to the LGBT community,” Ocamb adds.
The slight weakening of the ban may reflect military officials’ and lawmakers’ discomfort with a full ban. Leaders of the Navy and Coast Guard have made supportive statements about trans service members, and even Republican members of Congress have objected to the ban. There is also the matter of the need for troops to fight several ongoing wars; Trump this week announced he would commit 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan. And there had been reports that tensions with North Korea would mean a moratorium on discharges of transgender people, although it appears that will not be the case now.
LGBT groups and political allies are fighting back. The National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders have already filed a lawsuit challenging the ban, and Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN will file suit as soon as they have a chance to scrutinize the memo, the Blade reports.
“We condemn the actions of the White House in initiating this purge,” OutServe-SLDN executive director Matt Thorn said in a statement to the Blade. “We condemn the disregard that the President has shown to transgender men and women who wear the uniform. We condemn the intent of any person who would make it the mission of United States military to discriminate against the very citizens they are charged to defend. And we condemn the indifference of any elected official who does not now stand up for both military personnel and the LGBT community by opposing this purge.”
National Center for Transgender Equality policy director Harper Jean Tobin issued this statement: “Less than 24 hours after boasting that there was ‘no room for prejudice, no place for bigotry’ in the armed forces, President Trump is doubling down on discrimination by pressing forward with his ban on transgender service members. This is an insult to, and an attack on, thousands of trained, capable service members and veterans; and it is blatantly unconstitutional. Transgender service members do their jobs, serving the country they love, and are no less able to serve and deploy than anyone else.”
And Wednesday in California, Assembly Member Evan Low introduced a resolution stating that California “respectfully disagrees” with Trump’s call for a ban and directs the state’s governor “to direct the California National Guard, the California Air National Guard, and the other Armed Forces of the state to take no action that discriminates against transgender service members” unless the state’s policy is “superseded by federal law, regulation, or formal directive from the United States Department of Defense.” Low, who chairs the state legislature’s LGBT Caucus, told the Blade he and colleagues will be studying what will happen if state National Guard members are called into service placed under federal authority. The resolution will come up for debate in the next few weeks.