Transgender troop protections included in annual defense spending bill

Matt Saintsing
May 21, 2018 - 12:50 pm



A bipartisan mix of federal lawmakers are trying to ensure transgender troops can serve openly with a proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act.

The amendment would make permanent an Obama-era policy of open-service, which aims to block the Trump administration from enacting a ban on transgender service members. It was introduced by Democratic Reps. Jackie Speier (Calif.), A. Donald McEachin (Va.) and Susan Davis (Calif.), and Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtien (Fla.)—the mother of a transgender son.

U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes

President Donald Trump signed a memo in March banning nearly all transgender service members from openly serving in the military “except under certain limited circumstances.” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security Secretary, have “authority to implement any appropriate policies concerning military service by transgender individuals.”

Mr. Trump’s memo release overlapped with a report on Mattis’s recommendations for how the military should address transgender service members. Among the suggestions, anyone diagnosed with gender dysphoria would be banned from serving, except if they had not had gender dysphoria for 36 months or if they were diagnosed after entering military service, but are not in need of any transition-related medical operations.

But federal courts have put a hold on this policy. Preliminary injunctions in four separate lawsuits require the military to continue allowing open service of transgender troops while the suits work their way through the legal system.

Transgender advocates say that rule would usher in a new era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy repealed in 2010 that barred gay and bisexual troops from military service.

Over the past month, the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and the incoming Coast Guard commandant have testified to Congress that transgender service members are not a disruption to the discipline of unit cohesion.

Photo by Win McNamee/Pool/Sipa USA

“We treat every one of those sailors regardless with dignity and respect that is warranted by wearing the uniform of the United States Navy,” Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson told the Senate Armed Services Committee.“By virtue of that approach, I’m not aware of any issues."

A 2016 RAND study concluded allowing transgender troops to serve openly would have “minimal impact” on military readiness and health care costs, and a more recent report by the Palm Center—a group that advocates for transgender rights—offers a line-by-line rebuttal of Mattis’s report, claiming it mischaracterized legitimate research and made other baseless statements.

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