PRESIDENT TRUMP announced a ban on transgender people in the military with a series of tweets last year that surprised many, including senior military leaders. There had been no study, no analysis, no consultation. That arbitrariness was one reason four federal judges have temporarily blocked the policy from going into effect. So when the latest iteration of the ban was rolled out last week, the White House made a point of stressing that it was accompanied by a 44-page Defense Department report and had the backing of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
That, though, doesn’t make the process any less questionable. It also doesn’t make discrimination against transgender people any more acceptable. So let’s hope the courts see through this charade and strike down policies that would unjustly bar transgender people from the military.
The ban unveiled Friday by the White House, which won’t go into immediate effect because of the pending court challenges, is slightly more nuanced than the total ban the president staked out in his July tweets. But the effect is no less insidious, in that it would prevent most transgender people from serving in the military and likely would lead to mistreatment and dismissal of some active-duty members.
Anyone with a history of gender dysphoria (the experience of incongruity between birth gender and gender identity) would be disqualified save for limited and undefined circumstances. Also disqualified would be transgender people who have undergone gender transition. Eligible for enlistment and retention are transgender people who agree to serve in their birth gender. As Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights observed, “It means you can’t be transgender.”
The White House defended the newly revised ban as enhancing military “readiness, lethality and effectiveness” and said it was developed after extensive study by uniformed and civilian leaders. Isn’t it curious, though, that the conclusion reached was essentially the same as the one the president seemingly pulled out of thin air last year?
Transgender advocates are right to call this a case of reverse engineering, with a process designed to reach the president’s announced conclusion. Consider that the administration did not name the members of the so-called expert panel that is said to have studied this issue and Mr. Mattis did not answer questions about it, citing pending litigation. Groups such as the American Psychological Association and two former U.S. surgeons general have assailed the report as distorting scientific research. Also striking is that the Rand Corp., which studied this issue in 2016 before the Obama administration lifted a previous ban, reached a different conclusion: namely, that allowing transgender people to serve in the military would “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs” for the Pentagon.
The immediate issue for the federal courts hearing the challenges to the ban will be whether to make their injunctions permanent. It is likely the issue will eventually be decided by the Supreme Court. Until that happens — and unless Congress intervenes — there will be continued, and unjust, uncertainty for the transgender men and women who want to serve their country.
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