New guidance on transgender troops appears less rigid
SAN DIEGO — Active-duty transgender troops say a policy change that puts them at risk of being removed and indefinitely bars transgender people from enlisting in the military is a step backward for civil rights that will promote inequality in the armed forces.
President Donald Trump on Friday directed the Pentagon to extend a ban on transgender individuals joining the military but gave the Pentagon the authority to decide the future of openly transgender people already serving. Trump appeared to leave open the possibility of allowing some transgender people who already are in uniform to remain.
The guidance from the White House contradicts Trump’s words, Army Capt. Jennifer Sims said, pointing out that he praised the military for its tolerance when he told veterans in Nevada on Wednesday that those in uniform come from all walks of life and are united by shared values and a shared sense of duty.
“It’s going to create this situation where there is a complete inequality in how transgender troops are treated,” said Sims, 28, who is based in Germany and is taking pills to prepare for her transition surgery.
That is not the military’s problem, said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, which has opposed allowing transgender people to serve.
“The armed forces are not just another equal opportunity employer,” Donnelly said in a statement. The military’s limited funds, she added, should not be used “to indulge transgender demands.”
Transgender people have been allowed to serve openly in the military since June 2016. Trump, in a series of tweets on July 26, announced that he planned to end that policy.
The government “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” he tweeted, contending that their service entailed “tremendous medical costs and disruption.”
A 2016 study by the RAND Corp. estimated it would cost the military $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year to provide gender transition-related coverage, an increase of 0.04 percent to 0.13 percent in health care spending for active-duty members. Researchers estimated 29 to 129 active-duty service members annually would seek such treatment.
The new guidance, as described by an official familiar with its contents but not authorized by the White House to discuss it publicly, appears to be less rigid than the complete ban that Trump tweeted about.
The official said the guidance puts a stop to recruitment of transgender individuals and prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for gender reassignment surgery, except in cases where it is deemed necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun the transition. But it would give Defense Secretary Jim Mattis six months to determine circumstances in which those currently in uniform who are openly transgender might be permitted to continue serving.
Trump contends the military should not pay for medical care for transgender service members to transition to another gender, and that the process means they cannot be deployed, harming the readiness of the armed forces.
According to the policy adopted under the Obama administration, commanders have the discretion to decide when to allow transgender troops to start their treatment to transition to a different gender to ensure that it does not disrupt operations. Commanders can also decide whether a person undergoing treatment is still fit to be deployed.