Transgender Military Service
Despite the Trump-Pence Administration’s attempt to enact a discriminatory ban on transgender military service, transgender service members are currently able to serve their country openly in every branch of the military. However, their careers remain at risk until legal challenges to the ban are resolved in federal courts.
For decades, transgender people were prohibited from serving openly in the U.S. military based on outdated and discriminatory medical standards.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. A final piece of the policy allowing qualified transgender people to newly enter the military was scheduled to go into place a year later; however, action by President Trump upended that plan.
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. The memorandum stated that the military would not allow accessions for transgender individuals and directed Secretary Mattis to determine how to address transgender troops who are currently serving openly in the military. It also directed the Department of Defense to halt some transition-related healthcare.
Soon after the announcement of the ban, multiple lawsuits were filed challenging its constitutionality. In response, several federal courts issued injunctions preventing the Trump-Pence Administration from implementing the ban while the cases proceed. Beginning January 1, 2018, qualified transgender people began newly entering the military, despite attempts by the Trump-Pence Administration to roll back the policy. On March 23, 2018, the Administration released the details and implementation of the policy. In April, a federal court affirmed that the policy is not new but a continuation of the July plan and the court left in place the nationwide injunction. While these rulings are encouraging, the future of open transgender military service remains unresolved until these cases conclude.
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 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.
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Last Updated: May 8, 2018