UPDATE (April 12, 2019): The ban has now come into effect.
Donald Trump's administration is now ready to implement the transgender military ban.
A memo from the Department of Defense was obtained by reporters on Tuesday outlining how the ban will be put into effect. Under its terms, the military will discharge or deny enlistment to anyone who won’t serve in the gender to which they were assigned at birth, or who are undergoing hormone therapy or other gender-confirmation procedures, the Associated Press reports.
“The order says the military services must implement the new policy in 30 days [by April 12], giving some individuals a short window of time to qualify for gender transition if needed,” according to the AP. “And it allows service secretaries to waive the policy on a case-by-case basis.”
Signed by David L. Norquist, who is serving as deputy defense secretary, the document appears to be largely in keeping with the memo prepared by then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis last year and approved by the White House. It says service members can be discharged due to a diagnosis of gender dysphoria if they are “unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with his or her biological sex, or seeks transition to another gender.”
The Mattis memo came several months after Donald Trump announced, via Twitter, his intention to bar transgender people from military service, reversing the Obama administration’s decision to allow trans people to serve openly. The Trump policy is the subject of four court challenges, and judges had issued injunctions in these lawsuits to block the policy from going into effect while the suits are heard.
However, as of last week all these injunctions had been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court or a lower court (although attorneys for trans service members contend one of the injunctions remains in place, as there is still time to appeal the decision invalidating it).
The ban’s implementation would mean the discharge of an estimated 13,700 transgender service members (out of an estimated 15,000 serving), the largest single layoff of trans people in history. And it would come despite testimony from service chiefs that “they had seen no discipline, morale or unit readiness problems with transgender troops serving openly in the military,” the AP reports.
LGBTQ rights groups, including those handling the lawsuits, were quick to condemn the administration’s move.
“Not only does the Trump-Pence transgender military ban violate the Constitution, but now the administration is also defying a court order,” said Jennifer Levi, transgender rights project director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, in a press release. “With brazen disregard for the judicial process, the Pentagon is prematurely and illegally rolling out a plan to implement the ban when a court injunction remains in place prohibiting them from doing so.”
GLAD and the National Center for Lesbian Rights are representing trans service members in the one case where an injunction still stands. In that case, Doe v. Trump, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, ruled January 4 to vacate a lower court's injunction. However, that decision is not final until the plaintiffs have an opportunity to petition the the full court to review it and that petition is resolved, according to GLAD and NCLR. Earlier Tuesday, knowing the administration would seek to implement the ban soon, the two groups had filed a court brief stating the government had no right to do so.
Several other organizations denounced the administration's action as well. “The start of this looming purge represents an unprecedented step backward in the social and civil progress of our country and our military,” said a statement issued by Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy for the National Center for Transgender Equality. “This is the first time in American history such a step forward has been reversed, and it is a severe blow to the military and to the nation’s values."
OutServe-SLDN, SPARTA, the American Military Partner Association, and GLAAD also released responses to the news.
“By taking steps to implement its ban on open and authentic military service, the Trump-Pence administration has definitively affirmed that when it comes to our national security, they hold unsubstantiated and discriminatory claims as more important than effectively and efficiently completing the mission,” said OutServe-SLDN executive director Andy Blevins.
“We stand firmly with our members and the thousands of transgender troops serving bravely across the globe,” said SPARTA president Blake Dremann, who was also Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's official date to the recent State of the Union address. “While the new policy may go into effect soon, it does not remove or lessen the contributions we continue to provide in the defense of our nation."
"We look forward to a time when service members are judged solely on their capability to complete the mission," the soldier continued. "We will continue to work to make that a reality.”
Others responded to the news by drawing parallels between this new policy and that of "don't ask don't tell," the previous DoD policy that barred lesbians, gays and bisexuals from openly serving in the military.
“This horrific policy is even more cruel than ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ because the Pentagon explicitly told these service members it was finally safe to come out — and now they are being targeted for discrimination," added American Military Partner Association president Ashley Broadway-Mack.
"We emphatically condemn this unconscionable transgender military ban because it undermines military readiness, destroys unit cohesion, betrays our service members, and is based on nothing more than blatant bigotry.”
Zeke Stokes, chief programs officer for GLAAD, pledged continued resistance to the ban. “We will not stop fighting until every brave transgender patriot who wants to serve this country in uniform is able to do so free from discrimination,” Stokes said in an emailed statement.