Metro Weekly

Pentagon’s guidance says transgender troops will be able to re-enlist through February

Senators introducing stand-alone bill to stop discharges of qualified service members based solely on gender identity

The Pentagon. Photo: Department of Defense – Photo: Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force, via Wikimedia.

New guidance released last week by the Pentagon will allow currently serving transgender service members to re-enlist in the next several months until the Department of Defense finalizes its plans to carry out President Donald Trump’s proposed ban prohibiting transgender people from serving in the military.

According to the Associated Press, Mattis said in a memo, released on Friday to top military leaders, that the deputy defense secretary and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would lead a panel of military experts to determine how best to implement the president’s ban. That aligned with an earlier promise Mattis made that a panel of military experts would study the ramifications of the ban and would consult with other outside experts before issuing final implementation guidelines on Feb. 21, 2018.

President Trump previously directed the military to continue to ban out transgender individuals from enlisting, but left it up to Mattis’ discretion as to whether those who were out and already serving would be discharged or allowed to stay.

In the memo, Mattis made clear that current policies, begun under the Obama administration, were to remain in effect until a final decision was reached. In the meantime, transgender troops will continue to serve, and will be afforded the opportunity to re-enlist if they so desire. He also said that transgender service members would continue to receive any necessary medical care during that time — a point of contention for many conservatives who object to using taxpayer dollars to fund gender confirmation surgeries.

Under the Obama administration’s policy, a number of service members came out as transgender after being promised that they would not be forcibly discharged if they chose to come out. Many LGBTQ advocates see the Trump administration’s proposed ban as breaking a promise and penalizing those transgender service members for abiding by the rules in place at the time.

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) had offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would have prevented troops fro being forcibly discharged just because of their gender identity. But that amendment was blocked after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to allow a vote on it. 

In response, Gillibrand and Collins, along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the ranking member on that committee, have introduced a stand-alone bill that would do the same thing as the defeated amendment.

Namely, the bill would prevent the military from using a service member’s gender identity as the sole reason for discharging them. It also expresses the sense of the Senate that anybody who meets the standards for military readiness and physical fitness should be allowed to serve. The bill also require Mattis to complete his review of the proposed policy by the end of the year, and report his findings and recommendations to Congress before enacting any ban.

Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, pointed to both Mattis’ guidance as outlined in the memo and the introduction of the bill providing protections for transgender service members as examples of resistance against the proposed ban.

“It is clear that there is broad opposition within Congress and military leadership to Donald Trump and Mike Pence’s discriminatory attacks on transgender troops,” McBride said in a statement. “Donald Trump’s erratic July tweets — and the subsequent half-baked orders — have left the lives and careers of thousands of transgender service members in question. There is only one right answer here, and that is allowing any person willing and able to serve to do so. And we will not relent in our efforts to make that a reality.”

Ian Thompson, legislative representative at the American Civil Liberties Union, said it is up to Congress and the courts to “stand up for” transgender service members “by roundly rejecting President Trump’s effort to turn back the clock.” The ACLU is waging one of two lawsuits against the the Trump administration for the proposed ban, which the organization believes to be unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, which advocates for LGBTQ military service, said in a statement that there is widespread and bipartisan support for allowing transgender service members to remain in the military.

“In an era when the two parties can barely agree on anything, bipartisan support for transgender troops is remarkable,” Belkin said. “Senators from both parties understand that treating every service member the same promotes readiness, and that banning honorably-serving Americans would be disruptive and wasteful, with an estimated cost of almost $1 billion to recruit and train replacements.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com