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Trump Issued a Hateful New Ban on Almost All Transgender People in the Military

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On Friday evening, his favorite time to drop abominable news, Donald Trump issued a new memorandum that would ban almost all transgender people from serving in the U.S. military, including the Coast Guard. The new memorandum is based on a report from Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and it states that “transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — including individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery — are disqualified from military service except under limited circumstances.”

Mattis’ full report claims that “there are substantial risks associated with allowing the accession and retention of individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria and require, or have already undertaken, a course of treatment to change their gender … [and] this policy issue has proven more complex than the prior administration or RAND assumed.”

As a result of that “justification,” he recommended the following specific policies:

  • “Transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria are disqualified from military service, except under the following limited circumstances: (1) if they have been stable for 36 consecutive months in their biological sex prior to accession; (2) Service members diagnosed with gender dysphoria after entering into service may be retained if they do not require a change of gender and remain deployable within applicable retention standards; and (3) currently serving Service members who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria since the previous administration’s policy took effect and prior to the effective date of this new policy, may continue to serve in their preferred gender and receive medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria.
  • Transgender persons who require or have undergone gender transition are disqualified from military service.
  • Transgender persons without a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria, who are otherwise qualified for service, may serve, like all other Service members, in their biological sex.”

The only marginally okay thing in this hateful policy is that, at least, currently serving members of the military who came out under the previous policy will be protected. I am grateful for that small victory of due process, and relieved that they won’t lose their livelihoods and their access to medical care.

Trump had previously tweeted a ban on transgender recruits in the military, which he then followed up with a policy memorandum that banned transgender recruits and barred the Department of Defense (DoD) from funding gender-reassignment surgeries. That ban has been challenged by both the ACLU and Lambda Legal, and its implementation was temporarily blocked by a federal court. The military has subsequently accepted at least one openly transgender recruit in 2018.

As with Trump’s various iterations of the Muslim ban, this new-and-improved version of the ban on transgender servicepeople is likely meant to stave off or address the current court challenges to the existing policy. By tying the ban specifically to a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, the administration is bringing it more in line with existing military policy. The Army, for example, bans recruits with a history of self-mutilation, bipolar disorder, depression, or drug and alcohol abuse, unless they receive a waiver that allows them to enlist. As a result, there is some legal precedent for restricting military service based on past medical diagnoses.

However, just because this ban might hold up a little better in court, that doesn’t mean it’s any less transphobic—and that doesn’t mean Trump is any less obviously using an official diagnosis of gender dysphoria as a smokescreen to effectively ban all trans people. “This is still a policy in search of a problem,” said Natalie Nardecchia, a senior attorney with Lambda Legal. While there are certainly medical costs associated with gender transition, as The Advocate pointed out, the RAND National Defense Research Institute “estimated costs of transition-related health care at between $24 million and $84 million over the next 10 years, when the military budget is $600 billion a year, making those health care costs a drop in the bucket.” In addition, the RAND study, on which the Obama administration based its policies, found that there were no adverse effects on military readiness after the acceptance of openly transgender troops in Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom.

“This Trump-Pence plan categorically bans transgender people from service, with no legitimate basis,” said Jennifer Levi, transgender rights project director for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. “It requires the discharge of trained, skilled troops who have served honorably for decades. It’s a gross mischaracterization of transgender people, and it’s bad for our military.”

Many members of Congress also spoke out against the ban, including veteran Tammy Duckworth.

What can you do to help defeat this ban? Well, one hopes that the courts will strike it down as the discriminatory, transphobic garbage it is. They have before. But should that fail (let’s not forget, Neil Gorsuch is on the Supreme Court), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand introduced S.1820, a bill “to provide for the retention and service of transgender members of the Armed Forces,” back in September of 2017. It is currently sitting with the Senate’s Committee on Armed Services, so if one of your senators is on that committee, you should give them a call to ask what exactly they’re waiting for.

(via Politico; image: Shutterstock)

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