Trump administration announces limits on transgender troops

Transgender troops pose for a photo in Arlington National Cemetery, from left: retired Army lieutenant colonel Ann Murdoch, Transgender American Veterans Association Vice President Gene Silvestri, Yvonne Cook-Riley, retired Army major and Transgender American Veterans Association President Evan Young, petty officer first class Alice Ashton and retired Air Force major Nella Ludlow

The Trump administration has announced it will begin implementing restrictions on transgender troops serving in the military starting next month.

A memo from the Department of Defense outlines new guidelines that will deny enlistment or force discharge of soldiers who do not serve in the gender they were assigned at birth and/or who are undergoing hormone therapy or other treatment for gender dysphoria, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday (March 12).

The new policy will have to be implemented by April 12 and, while it allows service secretaries to waive the ban on a case-by-case basis, it will cause the discharge of anyone who can’t or won’t serve under the gender assigned at birth, needs gender confirmation surgery or is undergoing hormone treatment.

The guidelines prescribe that, before discharging a soldier over being “unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with his or her biological sex,” they must be formally counselled and given a final chance to change their decision.

According to Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, this last provision amounts to forcing transgender troops to undergo conversion therapy.

“This policy effectively forces transgender service members into conversion therapy as a condition of service. It is a cruel hoax that adds insult to injury,” the civil rights attorney wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

Why does Trump want to ban transgender troops from serving openly in the military?

News of the new guidelines comes days after a federal judge in Maryland removed an injunction against the Department of Defense, following the Supreme Court decision in January to allow the transgender military ban to be implemented even while legal challenges proceed in lower courts.

President Donald Trump first tweeted about wanting to bar transgender troops from openly serving in the military in 2017. According to the book Fear: Trump in the White House, by veteran investigative reporter Bob Woodward, Trump had been given an inflated figure of the cost of gender confirmation surgery and was adamant the policy had to be changed.

Transgender troops ban: President Donald Trump speaks to members of the U.S. Navy and shipyard workers

President Donald Trump speaks to members of the U.S. Navy and shipyard workers on board the USS Gerald R. Ford CVN 78 that is being built at Newport News shipbuilding, on March 2, 2017 in Newport News, Virginia. (Mark Wilson/Getty)

There are around 14,700 transgender individuals currently serving in the army. Figures published by USA Today in February indicate that, since President Barack Obama lifted a previous ban on transgender troops in 2016, 1,524 service members have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

The total cost of treating these transgender troops amounted to less than one hundred-thousandth of the 2019 military budget, or 0.001 percent.

What do critics of transgender troops ban say?

Democrats and civil rights organisations including the three main groups advocating for LGBT+ people in the military—American Military Partner Association (AMPA), OutServe-SLDN, and SPARTA—have strongly condemned the Pentagon’s guidelines on transgender troops.

The National Center for Transgender Equality warned that the ban implementation would result in a “purge.”

“The start of this looming purge represents an unprecedented step backward in the social and civil progress of our country and our military,” the organisation’s director of policy Harper Jean Tobin said in a statement, condemning the ban as “a severe blow to the military and to the nation’s values.”

“Transgender troops have served for decades, been deployed around the world & never once used bone spurs as an excuse to dodge their duty and service to our country.”

— Rep. Jackie Speier

The statement also called on Congress to intervene to protect transgender troops: “We cannot let an incompetent administration guided by a petulant bigot stand as the mascot of our time. History is watching Congress, and will judge them harshly for inaction. That is why we must act swiftly to protect transgender troops, our military, and the dignity of our own legacy.”

In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned the ban using the words “bigoted, disgusting, cowardly.”
She said: “The President’s revival of his bigoted, disgusting ban on transgender servicemembers is a stunning attack on the patriots who keep us safe and on the most fundamental ideals of our nation.

“The President’s years-long insistence on his cowardly ban makes clear that prejudice, not patriotism, guides his decisions.  If implemented, this hateful policy would undermine our military readiness and betray our core American values.”

Army Captain Alivia Stehlik, one of the transgender troops speaking at the Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing on 'Transgender Service Policy.' on Capital Hill on February 27, 2019 in Washington, DC.

Army Captain Alivia Stehlik speaks at the Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing on “Transgender Service Policy.” on Capital Hill on February 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty)

Representative Jackie Speier, a military veteran who fought to lift the previous ban under the Obama administration tweeted: “What’s POTUS so afraid of? Transgender troops have served for decades, been deployed around the world & never once used bone spurs as an excuse to dodge their duty and service to our country. We owe them our gratitude, not government-sanctioned discrimination.”

Speier, the chair of the House Armed Service Military Personnel Subcommittee, organised a hearing on February 27 where five transgender service members testified that transitioning has not hindered, but actually improved, their ability to serve.

Several retired general, admirals, as well as top military leaders of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps have previously attested to the ability of transgender troops to serve in the military without any issue.