White House Sets Rules for Military Transgender Ban

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The tweet wasn't a policy.  This is the start of a policy:

The White House is expected to send guidance to the Pentagon in coming days on how to implement a new administration ban on transgender people in the military, issuing a policy that will allow Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to consider a service member’s ability to deploy in deciding whether to kick them out of the military.

The White House memo also directs the Pentagon to deny admittance to transgender individuals and to stop spending on medical treatment regimens for those currently serving, according to U.S. officials familiar with the document.

The 2½-page memo gives Mr. Mattis six months to prepare to fully implement the new ban, according to these officials.

Mr. Mattis under the new policy is expected to consider “deployability”—the ability to serve in a war zone, participate in exercises or live for months on a ship—as the primary legal means to decide whether to separate service members from the military, the officials said.

Following President Donald Trump's announcement to ban open transgender service in the military, we spoke to one transgender veteran, Erika Barker, about her story. Photo/Video: Spencer Macnaughton for The Wall Street Journal

The policy was announced by President Donald Trump in a series of tweets on July 26, which effectively reinstated a ban on open transgender service that had been lifted the year before, under former President Barack Obama, in a move that also provided for military medical care for the condition known as gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is a condition that many professional associations have said requires medical treatment. For instance, gender dysphoria is recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as a medical issue. When diagnosed by a medical professional, transition therapy and reassignment surgery is considered by some insurers and states as a medically necessary treatment.

Employing the criteria of deployability to remove service members is bound to be greeted with deep opposition.

“Transgender people are just as deployable as other service members,” said Sue Fulton, the former president of Sparta, a military organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that advocates for open service. “Other service members may undergo procedures when they are at home base, just as other service members schedule shoulder surgery or gall bladder surgery.”

Ms. Fulton said there are no “ongoing treatments” for transgender service members that would render them nondeployable. “Thus there’s no difference between the deployability of transgender service members” and others, she said.

Pentagon officials have been awaiting policy guidance from the White House since Mr. Trump’s July tweets. The move by Mr. Obama was among a series of steps toward opening the military to larger segments of the U.S. population. Other steps included rescinding the “don’t ask, don’t tell” prohibition against gays serving openly and opening most combat jobs to women.

In moving to end the transgender ban, however, the Obama administration left some ambiguity. While currently serving transgender personnel were allowed to immediately begin to serve openly, the change set July 1, 2017, as the start of new enlistments by openly transgender people.

Confronted with the enlistment deadline, Mr. Trump agreed over the summer with conservative lawmakers who wanted to backtrack on the policy.

“The United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” Mr. Trump said in the July tweets.

“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,” he added.

The tweets sparked criticism among Democrats and LGBT groups, and took top Pentagon officials aback. Although Mr. Mattis was made aware of Mr. Trump’s views on the subject a day earlier, Mr. Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford didn’t know the president would announce it in such a manner, officials said.

No planning had occurred on how to reinstate the ban and the Pentagon was caught flat-footed, a number of officials said at the time of the tweets.

Defense officials have been perplexed about how they can legally or morally justify separating open transgender service members from the service, especially those who were invited to identify themselves when the ban was lifted, officials have said.

Estimates of how many transgender service members are openly serving in the military range from 1,320 to 6,600, according to a Rand Corp. study commissioned last year by the Pentagon. Not all of them seek treatment for gender dysphoria, the study said.

Advocacy groups believe there are as many as 7,000 transgender service members on active duty and 11,000 total, across all military services and components.

The Rand study said only a small number of those who are transgender, however, would require surgery that would prevent them from deploying.

Estimates, taken from surveys and private health-insurance claims data, conclude that each year between 29 and 129 service members within the military’s active component would seek transition-related care that “could disrupt their ability to deploy,” according to the report.

The administration’s pursuit of the ban on transgender service members is opposed by a broad range of Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Earlier this month, 53 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Mr. Mattis outlining their opposition to a reinstatement of the ban. 

“We believe any serious or credible review of the law and the facts in the present case make it clear that the president’s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the armed forces will weaken, not strengthen our military, and is blatantly unconstitutional,” said the letter, whose signatories included Reps. Adam Smith of Washington and John Conyers of Michigan.

But conservative Republicans have backed the decision. “The costs incurred by funding transgender surgeries and the required additional care it demands should not be the focus of our military resources,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R., Mo.), after Mr. Trump’s tweets in July.

The Rand report concluded that the cost of treating transgender service members would be between $2.4 million and $8.4 million a year. Total military health-care expenditures were $6.27 billion in 2014. 

The Pentagon’s military service chiefs hold a range of views on social issues, including on open service by gays and women in combat. But there was no push from senior leaders to re-establish the ban on transgender service members, officials have said.

Immediately after Mr. Trump’s tweets, service chiefs and other Pentagon leaders found themselves scrambling to assure the troops that their superiors would look after them until more formal guidance was available. Gen. Dunford promised “no modifications to the current policy” until the Pentagon had received and implemented new policy guidance.

This piece was originally published at the Wall Street Journal.

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