For decades, transgender people were prohibited from serving openly in the U.S. military based on outdated and discriminatory medical standards.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 the ban on transgender people serving openly in the U.S. military on June 30, 2016, acknowledging that it is in the military’s best interest to recruit and retain the best troops, regardless of their gender identity.
Following the 2016 policy announcement, transgender people already 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. In January 2018, openly transgender recruits were able to join the military for the first time, despite attempts by the Trump-Pence Administration to block them.
Trump-Pence Transgender Military Ban
On July 26, 2017, President Trump posted a series of tweets in the early morning hours announcing that “[t]he 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, including 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 and directing Secretary of Defense James Mattis to produce implementation recommendations, which he did in March 2018.
Soon after the announcement of the ban, multiple lawsuits were filed challenging its constitutionality. In response, several federal courts issued injunctions preventing the TrumpPence Administration from implementing the ban while the cases proceed. However, on January 22, 2019, the Supreme Court lifted the injunctions, allowing the Department of Defense to implement the ban while litigation continues, without issuing a ruling on the ban itself. The Administration began implementing the ban on April 12, 2019.
While the Pentagon has falsely claimed that the ban is not about transgender people, but instead gender dysphoria, the Mattis Implementation Report is a complete ban on transgender military service. It would prohibit transgender people from joining the military, and it would prohibit anyone currently in the military from transitioning. While the small group of transgender troops who came out after the ban was lifted in 2016 would not be immediately discharged, they would be forced to serve under a cloud of stigma.
Fit to Serve
Transgender troops have been serving openly and successfully since 2016, including hundreds who have deployed to combat zones. The Chiefs of Staff to each military branch have testified that there has been no negative impact on readiness. Additionally, data obtained by the Pentagon has shown that the cost of providing medical care to transgender troops has been minuscule. The American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and American Psychiatric Association all oppose the ban, stating that there is no medical reason transgender troops should be barred from serving.
The policy allowing transgender troops to serve openly does not grant any special exceptions. Transgender service members are held to the exact same rigorous standards as every other service member. They simply are no longer arbitrarily barred from service because of their gender identity.
Polling shows that the majority of Americans in every state and the District of Columbia oppose the Trump-Pence discriminatory ban and support transgender people serving openly in the military.
Several pieces of legislation have been introduced to reject the Trump-Pence ban on transgender military service.
Bipartisan legislation (S. 373 / H.R. 1032) to end the transgender military ban was introduced in February 2019 by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jack Reed (DRI) in the Senate and by Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA), Joe Kennedy (D-MA), John Katko (R-NY), Susan Davis (D-CA) and Anthony Brown (D-MD) in the House. This legislation would prohibit the military from discharging service members or rejecting military recruits solely because of their gender identity.
Additionally, Representative Joe Kennedy (D-MA) introduced a resolution (H.Res. 124) rejecting the Trump-Pence transgender military ban and urging the Department of Defense not to implement the discriminatory policy. This resolution passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 238 185 on March 28, 2019.
An amendment introduced by Representative Jackie Speier was also added to the House FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2500) that would end the ban on transgender service and codify non-discrimination protections for service members. NDAA passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 242 – 187 on July 12, 2019.
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Last Updated: October 1, 2019