FOR ALMOST two years, transgender men and women have been allowed to openly serve in the military. There have been no problems; “precisely zero” were the exact words last April of Army Chief of Staff Mark A. Milley. Hundreds of transgender troops have been deployed without incident to combat zones. Commanders have singled out transgender troops for praise. Despite the success of this inclusive policy, the Trump administration has not abandoned its efforts to restrict military service by transgender men and women. Sadly, it got a boost from the Supreme Court. We hope that triumph will be just temporary, but already there has been damage done to the country and the patriotic transgender Americans who want to serve it.
The Supreme Court last month gave the Trump administration the go-ahead to impose its misguided ban on transgender service members while court challenges to the validity of the policy continue. The 5-to-4 decision lifted injunctions from lower courts that for more than a year prevented the Pentagon from implementing the “Mattis plan” issued by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at President Trump’s instigation. That would ban most transgender men and women from enlisting in the military. The Defense Department, while awaiting the anticipated removal of a third injunction, said it was pleased with the court’s decision and stands ready to implement it once the final legal hurdle is cleared.
Exact details of what will occur remain uncertain. What seems sure is that transgender individuals who have undergone a sex transition or are seeking to transition from their biological gender will be barred. Those who agree to serve for the duration in accordance with their biological gender may be tolerated — in a cruel reprise of the failed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy once applied to gay service members. Transgender service members who were able to come out of the shadows because of changes implemented by the Obama administration in 2016 will be grandfathered and allowed to serve, but nonetheless, they will be marginalized and stigmatized by a discriminatory policy.
The Supreme Court provided no explanation for its decision. Its split along the court’s conservative and liberal fault lines — with the conservative majority allowing reinstatement of the ban — was viewed as a discouraging sign by transgender-rights advocates. Fortunately, the court refused the administration’s bid for an immediate final decision, so the appeals will continue in lower courts. That leaves people such as Megan Winters, in the Navy for six years and hailed by her commander in a 2017 evaluation as embodying “the qualities the Navy seeks in its future leaders,” operating under a cloud and wondering if the day will come when she no longer will be able to serve her country. How does that serve the national interest?