Transgender Military Service

Background

For decades, transgender people were prohibited from serving openly in the U.S. military based on outdated and discriminatory medical standards. However, following a year-long intensive working group studying the “policy and readiness implications,” the Pentagon lifted their ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military on June 30, 2016.

Following the policy’s announcement, transgender people currently serving in the military were able to do so openly and were no longer able to be discharged simply because of their gender identity. In addition, transgender service members were able to access all medically necessary health care and officially change their gender in Pentagon personnel systems. A final piece of the policy that would have allowed qualified transgender people to newly enter the military was scheduled to go into place a year later, by July 1, 2017, however Secretary of Defense James Mattis delayed implementation by six months. 

Trump’s Transgender Military Ban

On July 26, 2017, President Trump posted a series of tweets in the early morning hours announcing that, “The United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” The unexpected and callous tweets were swiftly and widely condemned by more than 56 retired generals and admirals as well as prominent members of Congress from both sides of the aisle.

A month after the initial tweets, President Trump issued a formal memorandum detailing the ban. It clarified that the military would not allow accessions for transgender individuals and halts some transition-related healthcare by March 23, 2018. The memo directs Secretary Mattis to develop by February 21, 2018, a plan to implement the ban and determine how to address transgender troops who are currently serving openly in the military.  

Polling shows that the majority of Americans in every state and the District of Columbia oppose Trump’s discriminatory ban and support transgender people serving openly in the military.

Fit to Serve

A RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Department of Defense determined that there are no readiness implications that prevent transgender people from serving openly and that numerous foreign militaries have successfully permitted open service including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Israel Additionally, the study concluded that the cost of providing medical care to transgender troops would be miniscule.

The policy allowing transgender troops to serve openly did not grant them special exceptions. They were held to the exact same rigorous standards as every other service member. They simply were no longer arbitrarily barred from service because of their gender identity.

Legislative Response

During consideration of the FY18 National Defense Authorization Act, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced a bipartisan amendment to protect transgender troops who are currently serving from being discharged because of their gender identity. The amendment was expected to receive strong, bipartisan support. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) ended debate before the amendment was able to receive a vote.

In response, Sens. Gillibrand and Collins, joined by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) and Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced the amendment as standalone bipartisan legislation (S. 1820). Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Susan Davis (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Adam Smith (D-WA), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) introduced the companion legislation in the House of Representatives (H.R. 4041).

 

For more information, please contact legislation@hrc.org. Read about other federal legislation and policies pertinent to the LGBTQ community here.

Last Updated: November 6, 2017