Soldiers with the Transgender American Veterans Association’s wreath at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns on Friday. (TAVA Vice President Gene Silvestri)
Columnist

There’s more than one way to rebuff the Pentagon’s plan to limit transgender participation in the military.

As a bugler played taps, members of the Transgender American Veterans Association made a point with a solemn wreath-laying ceremony Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.

More than 120 members of Congress took the scientific route earlier last week, with a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that attacked his rationale for banning transgender people except in certain situations.

In both cases, the message favoring transgender military service was powerful.

One was an emotional event highlighting the ultimate sacrifice transgender troops made for their country. The other is a detailed rebuke of the Pentagon’s limits on them.

Despite objections to the Defense Department’s recommendations in a memorandum to President Trump, Mattis called on him to revoke his 2017 decision excluding all transgender people from the armed services.

Nonetheless, the limits placed by Mattis would block more people than the Obama administration policy.

Writing to “express our deep opposition to the flawed scientific and medical assertions” in the recommendations excluding some individuals because of reasons involving transgender-related care, the letter, spearheaded by Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), said, “In fact, there is a global medical consensus that such care is effective, safe, and reliable.”

In his February memorandum to Trump, Mattis said transgender people with gender dysphoria are “disqualified from military service, except under … limited circumstances.”

The American Psychiatric Association says gender dysphoria “involves a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.”

The Pentagon’s policy would allow those with that conflict to serve if they have been “stable for 36 months in their biological sex” and if they were diagnosed after joining the service and “do not require a change of gender.”

Service members who were diagnosed with gender dysphoria after the Obama administration’s policy allowing them to serve openly was issued and before adoption of the Defense Department’s more restrictive policy “may continue to serve in their preferred gender and receive medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria.”

The Mattis policy would explicitly ban “transgender persons who require or have undergone gender transition.”

His memo said the Defense Department “concludes that there are substantial risks” with people who have or had “a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria and require, or have already undertaken, a course of treatment to change their gender.”

“Preservation of unit cohesion, absolutely essential to military effectiveness and lethality,” Mattis’s memo added, “also reaffirms this conclusion.”

But the members of Congress who signed the letter, all House Democrats, accused the Pentagon of the “ ‘cherry-picking’ of outdated studies to support its conclusions.”

They rebutted Mattis by citing experts in the fields of medicine, psychology and psychiatry.

“The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association each have pointed to the efficacy of transition-related care and have expressed opposition to your discriminatory ban,” their letter said. “American Medical Association CEO Dr. James Madara sent your office a letter reaffirming the view that ‘there is no medically valid reason’ to exclude transgender individuals from military service, including those diagnosed with gender dysphoria. According to the American Psychological Association, substantial research proves that gender is a treatable condition that does not prevent individuals from excelling in the military. The American Psychiatric Association has found significant and long-standing medical and evidence demonstrating clear benefits of medical interventions for individuals seeking transition, and expressed ‘strong opposition’ to your guidance after it was revealed.”

The Pentagon did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.

The Arlington ceremony was planned long before Mattis announced his recommendations and was not meant to be a political statement. “We wanted to honor those who lost their lives in defense of freedom,” said Evan Young, president of the Transgender American Veterans Association and a retired Army major.

Yet the wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns did send a poignant message that says transgender people have served and died, even as they have suffered disrespect and discrimination. The ceremony followed the association’s Transgender Military Summit, and members of the organization marched Saturday in the District’s Pride Parade.

The support they received along the parade route “was amazing,” Young said. “Anything we can do to bring attention to the disparities in serving in the military, it’s a positive thing.”

That includes the congressional letter, which left him “super glad.” He added, “I hope that somebody listens.”

Read more:

Trump revokes full ban on transgender military service, defers to Pentagon on a plan far more

Transgender military ban is stigmatizing, likely harmful already, judge says