President Trump tweeted on Wednesday the U.S. military "will not accept or allow" transgender people in the armed forces "in any capacity," citing dubious claims of medical costs and disruptions of allowing them to serve. Washington Blade photo Michael Key

Trump Tweets U.S. Military 'Will Not Accept or Allow' Trans Troops

BY CHRIS JOHNSON, WASHINGTON BLADE

President Trump tweeted on Wednesday the U.S. military "will not accept or allow" transgender people in the armed forces "in any capacity," citing dubious claims of medical costs and disruptions of allowing them to serve.

"After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military," Trump tweeted. "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

Trump's announcement comes after Defense Secretary James Mattis announced he'd push back the target date for allowing openly transgender people to enlist in the armed forces from July 1, 2017 to Jan. 1, 2018, citing a need for additional six-month review of transgender service. It's unclear why Trump has made the decision to bar transgender troops from the armed forces before the expected completion of this review.

Last year, under the Obama administration, former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter after a year-long review lifted the medical regulation banning transgender people from serving in the armed forces. Although transgender people could come out without fear of discharge, openly transgender people wouldn't be allowed to enlist until a later time, which Mattis later pushed back.

Trump's tweets indicate not only a reversal of the delay in allowing transgender enlistments, but a total ban on transgender people in the armed forces. It remains to be seen whether openly transgender people currently in the military will now be forced out.

The Washington Blade has placed a request seeking comment with the Defense Department on how the Pentagon will implement Trump's announcement and what it means for transgender people currently in the armed forces.

An estimated 15,500 transgender service members are already serving in the armed forces. The RAND Corp. has determined the cost of gender reassignment surgeries for transgender troops would consume between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, which is a tiny fraction of the Pentagon's multi-billion dollar budget.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, tweeted criticism of Trump's decision to bar transgender people from the armed forces.

Will Fischer, an Iraq War veteran and director of government outreach for the anti-Trump group VoteVets, said in a statement Trump's decision "insults our professional military" and "hurts our ability to win."

"Maybe Donald Trump's time at a fake military school has skewed his view of the military," Fischer said. "But for those of us who have served, transgender service is not a problem. In fact, when it allows the best into our military, it is an asset."

Matthew Thorn, executive director of the LGBT military group OutServe-SLDN, also condemned Trump's tweets in a statement, suggesting a lawsuit may be underway to undo Trump's new transgender military ban.

"The readiness, effectiveness, and lethality of the Armed Services comes from the commitment of our troops - not the vagaries and bigotry of exclusionary policies," Thorn said. "We are committed to transgender service members. We are going to fight for them as hard as they are fighting for the country. And we're going to start by taking the fight to Donald Trump in the federal court."

Praising Trump for announcing a ban on transgender people in the armed forces was Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council.

"I applaud President Trump for keeping his promise to return to military priorities -- and not continue the social experimentation of the Obama era that has crippled our nation's military." Perkins said. "The military can now focus its efforts on preparing to fight and win wars rather than being used to advance the Obama social agenda."

Trump's announcement comes after the publication of a Foreign Policy report indicating Vice President Mike Pence, who has a history over his career of opposing LGBT rights, has been quietly working behind the scenes with members of Congress to reverse transgender military service.

Marc Lotter, a Pence spokesperson, however, denied in a statement to the Washington Blade Pence had any talks with lawmakers about the reversing the Obama-era change.

"As I said to that publication, the vice president has been focused on health care," Lotter said. "I am not aware of him having any conversations with members on that."

Trump's announcement also comes shortly after the U.S. House rejected an amendment proposed by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) to major defense policy legislation that would have banned the Pentagon from paying for transition-related care for transgender troops. Given their dependence on this health care, the amendment would have effectively banned them from the armed forces.

Before the U.S. House rejected her amendment by a narrow 214-209 vote, Hartzler estimated gender reassignment surgery would cost $1.35 billion over the course of 10 years -- a figure wildly higher than estimates from military experts. Trump may have been relying on that dubious estimate when tweeting the military would be "burdened with the tremendous medical costs" of transgender service.

The Family Research Council, which had been pushing for reversal of transgender military service, had cited an even more outlandish figure, estimating transition-related care would cost $3.7 billion over the next 10 years.

After the failure of the Hartzler amendment, Republican lawmakers weren't giving up. A trio of anti-LGBT lawmakers -- Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Steve King (R-Iowa) -- submitted new amendments to the House Rules Committee in an attempt to restrict transgender military service as part of the fiscal year 2018 defense appropriations bill.

It remains to be seen whether the House will proceed with those amendments to codify restrictions on transgender military service into law, or whether Trump's announcement will persuade them to abandon the effort.

Trump makes his announcement on July 26, the same day former President Truman in 1948 issued an executive order desegregating the U.S. military on the basis of race.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political and White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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