Metro Weekly

LGBTQ groups balk at removal of amendment to lift military’s transgender ban

Congressional Republicans insist on elimination of amendment to allow transgender personnel to serve openly

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash. – Photo: Facebook.

LGBTQ groups are incensed and disappointed in the removal of an amendment from the National Defense Authorization Act that would have lifted President Trump’s ban prohibiting transgender individuals from serving openly in the U.S. military.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, confirmed that the Speier/Brown Amendment, which would have overturned the Trump administration’s transgender ban, ensured transgender individuals can continue serving, and issued an analysis of the administration’s ban and its effect on transgender personnel, had been removed rom the final version of the NDAA.

The bipartisan provision, which was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 242-187, was removed after House Republicans, notably Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, worked with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to outflank House Democrats and push for the amendment’s removal.

“We fought hard for it,” Smith told The Hill. “There were potential compromises that I could have pursued, but the conventional wisdom was, all or nothing, and I agree with that convention wisdom. There should be no restriction on transgender troops’ ability to serve. … We’re going to have to keep fighting them on that.”

In response, a coalition of LGBTQ groups released a joint statement condemning the removal of the pro-transgender provisions. Among the groups involved were the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, the Modern Military Association of America, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Palm Center, a think tank focusing on LGBTQ inclusion within the ranks of the military.

“Transgender troops served openly and honorably without incident for three years before this reckless ban on their service was put into place by the Trump-Pence administration,” the statement reads. “Military leadership, medical experts, and defense budget experts have all provided evidence that the ban is without merit, costs the taxpayer, and is damaging to military readiness.

“It is unconscionable that thousands of honorably serving transgender service members and their families will continue to live under the threat of discharge simply because of who they are,” the statement continued. “This ban is based on bias, not evidence, and is opposed by the American people, military experts, and elected officials across the political spectrum.”

Under current Department of Defense policy, also known as the “Mattis Plan,” transgender personnel are prevented from enlisting or serving openly in the U.S. military unless they can prove they have not been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, do not attempt to transition, and adhere to physical and grooming standards based on their assigned sex at birth. If a person comes out as transgender or attempts to transition — even if it is deemed medically necessary — they can be discharged and potentially lose any benefits they accrued during their service.

Army Capt. Alivia Stehlik testifies before a House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel – Photo: House Armed Services Committee.

Opponents, including most LGBTQ advocates, say that, despite a small number of transgender people who will be allowed to serve — either because they already transitioned and were exempted from the policy or because they keep their identity effectively secret — the restrictions under the Mattis Plan effectively constitute a ban, and should be overturned. 

Opponents also say there is no rationale for excluding transgender people from serving openly. The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association have all said there is no valid medical reason for the restrictions, and a report from the Palm Center, authored by former military surgeons general, pointed to evidence dispelling the erroneous claim that transgender service members are medically unfit to serve.

Last year, several high-ranking officers testified under oath before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the presence of transgender individuals in the rans has not hampered military readiness or unit cohesion — rebutting claims made by the White House and social conservatives to justify the ban.

It would seem that the public is also on the side of transgender troops. According to a Gallup poll from June, 71% of Americans, including a majority of veterans, support allowing transgender people to serve in the military.

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