Dana White, the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, briefs the press at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

DoD photo by Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Kathryn E. Holm

Pentagon dodges questions on transgender policy recommendation

March 29, 2018 - 5:34 pm

Almost one week after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ recommendation on the Department of Defense’s transgender policy was released, the Pentagon would not elaborate much on the memo’s content due to pending litigation.

“We will continue to comply with four court orders assessing transgender applicants for military service and retaining current transgender service members,” Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White told reporters, Thursday afternoon.

The transgender policy, put in place by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter in 2016, is still the DoD’s current policy. The policy states that transgender service members can serve openly and they cannot be separated solely based on their gender identity.

In August of 2017, President Donald Trump told the Pentagon to reverse the policy and to ban transgender people from service. In October 2017, a judge temporarily blocked his ban. 

Mattis’ memo to the White House, dated in February of this year, recommended that service members who have a history of gender dysphoria are disqualified from service except for certain circumstances. Also, service members who require or have undergone gender transition procedures are disqualified without an exception.

When asked by a reporter about the policy recommendation not having an exception to the gender transition and the possibility of service members being kicked out, White replied that she was “limited in my ability to talk about it” due to the court orders.

When pushed further about the Pentagon needing to explain and clarify on the content in the document that they had released, White responded that “much of that will be explained through litigation. And as that the Department of Justice is the lead, I have to respect the current process.”

Another part of Mattis’ recommendation memo mentioned a panel of experts that was comprised of “senior uniformed and civilian Defense Department and U.S. Coast Guard leaders,” including combat veterans, that would develop policy proposals based on data and their “professional military judgement.”

White said she did not have information on who was on the panel that factored into the secretary’s decision, and that she would have to talk to DOJ as well as the Office of the General Council.

According to the memo, the panel was asked to look at DoD data gathered after the implementation of the current transgender policy as well as meet with transgender service members, commanders of transgender service members, and military and civilian medical professionals.

When asked if Secretary Mattis was proud about the recommendations he made in the memo to the president, White answered that he was “asked for his thoughts and he provided his recommendation.”

“That is his recommendation, and that is what it is,” she added.

She also added that the timing of the memo’s release was part of a coordinated effort with the White House and Department of Justice, as well as to provide the public transparency about what was in memo and the supporting documents.