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House votes to condemn Trump ban on transgender military service

Protesters at the White House in July 2017 after President Trump announced his transgender military ban.
Protesters at the White House in July 2017 after President Trump announced his transgender military ban. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
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The House voted Thursday to strongly oppose President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving openly in the military, a symbolic rebuke led by Democrats angry at Trump’s reversal of a policy established under President Barack Obama.

The resolution condemns the ban as discriminatory and rejects “the flawed scientific and medical claims upon which it is based,” but it does not move to actually change the policy. It instead “strongly urges” the Defense Department to not implement the ban and to “maintain an inclusive policy” on allowing qualified transgender people to serve in the military.

The resolution passed 238 to 185, with five Republicans joining Democrats in backing the measure. There is no indication the GOP-majority Senate will take up the measure, though binding changes to the policy could be debated as part of the yearly defense authorization process.

Speaking on the House floor Thursday, Democrats lambasted Trump for reversing the Obama policy. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the move “bigoted.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) pointed to statements from military leaders — including Army Gen. Mark Milley, the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — indicating that there were no indications that transgender troops had affected morale or readiness.

“What this policy is primarily based on is ignorance and bias against the transgender community,” Smith said. “This is unfair discrimination, and it’s also harmful to national security.”

The Pentagon said this month that it would begin enforcing the transgender troop ban for new applicants starting April 12. That announcement followed a January Supreme Court ruling backing Trump’s authority to roll back the previous policy.

Under the new Pentagon policy, applicants with a history of gender dysphoria would be disqualified unless they have been stable in their biological sex for 36 months and are willing to follow military rules for that gender. People who have already transitioned away from their birth gender would not be eligible for service.

Those who are already in the military or under contract to join before April 12 are covered under the Obama administration’s policy, which allowed people who have transitioned to join the military and allowed those already serving to transition as well.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, dismissed the Democratic measure as a “messaging bill” and said he was concerned that the partisan measure could undermine the traditional bipartisan working relationship on military matters.

Another Republican on the committee, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), said it was unfair that some Americans were being excluded from military service based on conditions such as asthma and bunions while transgender people — who, she said, carried a similar risk of being unable to fight for medical reasons — were allowed to serve.

“We should not carve out exceptions for an entire population,” she said. “Military service is a privilege, not a right.”

Opponents of the transgender service ban continue to fight it in federal court, but the Trump administration has shown no indication of changing course on the policy — first announced publicly in a July 2017 tweet from the president.

“After consultations with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump wrote. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”

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