Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is leaving an Obama-era policy on transgender military service members largely intact, saying he needs input from an expert panel to determine the best way to implement President Trump’s ban.
In July, Trump announced on Twitter transgender troops would not be allowed to serve in the military in any capacity. Trump said the Obama administration did not show that terminating the former policy “would not hinder military effectiveness and lethality, disrupt unit cohesion, or tax military resources.”
Advocacy groups said they will battle President Trump in the courtroom in a fight to keep transgender troops in the military.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the advocacy groups Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, among others, have launched federal lawsuits to prevent Trump’s moratorium on recruiting transgender individuals and the Pentagon paying the cost of gender-reassignment surgeries from taking effect early next year.
Randy S. Phillips, president of the Dayton LGBT Center, said someone needs to standup to the President.
“He’s just taking the opportunity to further marginalize an already marginalized folk within the Army itself,” Phillips said. “Many of them have been serving for many years … the whole thing just becomes mean spirited. There is no real logic behind it.”
Phillips said medical costs associated with transgender troops “is a very small margin of what is spent overall.”
According to a 2016 RAND study paid for by the Department of Defense, those costs range between $2.4 million to $8.4 million for hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgeries it estimated would be requested by less than 150 troops. Researchers estimated between 1,320 to 6,630 transgender troops serve on active duty out of a force of 1.3 million.
The study noted 18 nations permit transgender individuals to serve in their country’s military.
Congresswoman backs Trump’s decision
U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., a supporter of Trump’s position, pushed a failed House amendment to a defense authorization bill in July to end the Defense Department paying for gender reassignment surgeries, arguing the cost could reach $1.35 billion over 10 years for almost 4,500 service members out of an nearly 15,000 transgender individuals estimated in the entire active duty and reserve force of 2.1 million.
“Our military is the most effective, efficient and well-funded fighting force in the world, and as the president notes, we cannot burden our armed forces with the tremendous costs and disruptions that transgender in the military would entail,” she said in a July 26 statement. “… The costs incurred by funding transgender surgeries and the required additional care it demands should not be the focus of our military resources.”
Peter Perkowski, legal director of OutServe-SLDN, a Washington, D.C.-headquartered advocacy group representing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender service members, indicated the White House directive was discriminatory.
“For people who want to join it seems pretty clear that (Trump’s memo) would categorically exclude them which obviously concerns our organization greatly,” he said in an interview with this newspaper. “We think people who meet the qualification ought to be able to serve.
“Right now,” he added, “everyone who is currently serving and is transgender is in limbo wondering what this policy means for them and it could mean that everyone of them is separated (from the military) or it could mean that some of them are retained and others are not.”
Perkowski said the organization was “very confident” it would win the legal fight “mainly because we don’t believe the government has any justification at all for this new policy so they’ll have difficulty defending it in our view.”
A White House spokesman said it would not comment on pending litigation.
This newspaper made repeated requests this week to U.S. Rep. Mike Turner’s office for comment. The Dayton Republican, who has Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in his congressional district and is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has not released a public statement on the issue since Trump’s directive to the Pentagon.
In July, Turner joined with 208 House members who voted yes on Hartzler’s failed amendment to end Pentagon funding for service members’ transgender surgeries. In a 214-209 vote, 24 Republicans joined House Democrats to defeat the measure.
On a stop this week at Wright-Patterson, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he would defer to military commanders to determine the status of transgender troops in the ranks.
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, indicated transgender troops should be allowed to serve in the military. “We should not turn away anyone who is willing and able to serve this country and help keep America safe,” the senator said.
In the House, 140 Democrats reportedly signed an Aug. 29 letter urging Trump to reconsider his ban on transgender troops, in part citing its unconstitutionality.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.