Fate of transgender already in military unclear under order

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday directed the
Pentagon to extend indefinitely a ban on transgender individuals
joining the military, but he appeared to leave open the
possibility of allowing some already in uniform to remain.

Trump gave Defense Secretary Jim Mattis authority to decide the
matter of openly transgender individuals already serving, and he
said that until the Pentagon chief makes that decision, “no
action may be taken against” them.

The Obama administration in June 2016 had changed longstanding
policy, declaring that troops could serve openly as transgender
individuals. And it set a July 2017 deadline for determining
whether transgender people could be allowed to enter the
military. Mattis delayed that to Jan. 1, 2018, and Trump has now
instructed Mattis to extend it indefinitely.

But on the question of what will happen to those transgender
individuals who already are serving openly – estimated to number
in the low hundreds – Trump seemed to leave wiggle room for
exceptions. A White House official who briefed reporters on the
presidential order would not say whether Trump would permit any
exceptions.

That official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground
rules set by the White House, said Mattis has been directed to
take a number of factors into consideration in determining how to
deal with transgender individuals already serving. Those factors
are to include broad measures such as “military effectiveness,”
budgetary constraints and “unit cohesion,” as well as other
factors Mattis deems “relevant.” It was not clear whether that
means it is possible for Mattis to come to the conclusion that
some transgender troops should be allowed to remain.

Trump gave Mattis six months to come up with a policy on those
currently serving, and he must implement it by March 23, 2018,
the official said.

In a tweet last month, Trump said the federal government “will
not accept or allow” transgender individuals to serve “in any
capacity” in the military.

Carl Tobias, a legal expert at the University of Richmond’s
School of Law, said he interprets the Trump directive as leaving
open the chance for some transgender servicemembers to stay.

“Trump seems to be granting Mattis discretion to decide which
currently serving transgender people can continue to serve,”
Tobias said via email. “It appears that Mattis has discretion
substantively and procedurally.”

The White House official on Friday said Trump also directed
Mattis to halt the use of federal funds to pay for sexual
reassignment surgeries and medications, except in cases where it
is deemed necessary to protect the health of an individual who
has already begun the transition. That policy is to be written
within six months and implemented by March 23.

In his directive to Mattis, Trump said he found that his
predecessor’s transgender policy was flawed.

“In my judgment, the previous administration failed to identify a
sufficient basis to conclude” that ending the longstanding ban on
transgender service would not “hinder military effectiveness and
lethality” and be disrupting in the ranks, he wrote.

The Pentagon had little to say on the subject Friday. Dana W.
White, the main spokeswoman for Mattis, issued a two-sentence
statement saying Mattis had received White House guidance on
transgender policy, adding, “More information will be
forthcoming.”

Only one year ago, in June 2016, then-Defense Secretary Ash
Carter announced that transgender individuals could serve openly
for the first time. Prior to that, most transgender people in the
military had been forced to keep their status secret to avoid
being discharged; Trump’s order appears to have returned the
military to that same situation.

Since Carter’s policy change, some troops — possibly a couple
hundred — have openly declared their status as transgender
individuals.

Carter also had given the military services until July 1 of this
year to present plans for allowing transgender individuals to
join the military. Shortly before that date, Mattis extended the
study period to the end of this year. And shortly after that,
Trump went to Twitter to announce a total ban, without having
used the customary interagency policy process.

At the time of Trump’s tweet, the Pentagon was not prepared to
change its policy. A flurry of White House meetings ensued, with
participation by representatives of the Defense Department, to
translate Trump’s announcement into guidance that could be
implemented and would stand up to expected legal challenges.

Just last week, Mattis suggested he was open to the possibility
of allowing some transgender troops to remain in uniform.

“The policy is going to address whether or not transgenders can
serve under what conditions, what medical support they require,
how much time would they be perhaps non-deployable, leaving
others to pick up their share of everything,” he said Aug. 14.

Estimates of the number of transgender troops in the service vary
widely. A Rand Corp. study said roughly 2,500 transgender
personnel may be serving in active duty, and 1,500 in the
reserves. It estimated only 30 to 130 active-duty troops out of a
force of 1.3 million would seek transition-related health care
each year. Costs could be $2.4 million to $8.4 million, it
estimated.

Among those who have cheered Trump’s tweet, Elaine Donnelly said
the president is halting “a massive social experiment.”

“Expensive, lifelong hormone treatments and irreversible
surgeries associated with gender dysphoria would negatively
affect personal deployability and mission readiness, without
resolving underlying psychological problems, including high risks
of suicide,” said Donnelly, president of the Center for Military
Readiness.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., an Army combat veteran, said the
Pentagon should not exclude people based on gender status.

“If you are willing to risk your life for our country and you can
do the job, you should be able to serve — no matter your gender
identity or sexual orientation,” she said Thursday. “Anything
else is not just discriminatory, it is disruptive to our military
and it is counterproductive to our national security.”

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