President Trump moved late Friday to exclude most transgender people from signing up for the U.S. military, after his defense and homeland security chiefs said they were worried about the armed forces’ ability to handle the different challenges the troops would bring.
The decision replaces Mr. Trump’s earlier ban, announced last summer, with a more thoroughly justified and somewhat tailored approach.
The White House announced the policy even as the Justice Department submitted it to federal courts, which had blocked the 2017 ban.
“The Department of Defense concludes that there are substantial risks associated with allowing the accession and retention of individuals with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria and require, or have already undertaken, a course of treatment to change their gender,” Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis said in a February memo, submitted to the court.
“I firmly believe that compelling behavioral health reasons require the department to proceed with caution before compounding the significant challenges inherent in treating gender dysphoria with the unique, highly stressful circumstances of military training and combat operations,” he wrote, warning of problems with “unit cohesion” otherwise.
Transgender people who have “been stable for 36 consecutive months in their biological sex” can still sign up, and troops already serving who have gender dysphoria but don’t require a change of gender can also continue, Mr. Mattis said.
His updated policy won’t go into effect unless multiple judges lift their blockades.
The Obama administration had announced in 2016 it would allow transgender troops to serve, after a RAND Corp. study concluded the military could handle the challenges.
Mr. Mattis led a new study, though, which said RAND’s review was selective and RAND itself acknowledged limits to the data it was looking at. The new Trump administration review, detailed in a 43-page report submitted to the court, said the issue turned out to be “more complicated” than RAND had foreseen.
Advocates for transgender troops blasted the move and the reasoning included in the Trump review. And they seemed to place particular blame on Vice President Mike Pence, a conservative Republican with deep ties to the religious right.
“This policy is a thinly veiled and feeble attempt by the Trump-Pence administration to justify the unnecessary discrimination of qualified patriots in order to advance their own personal agendas and in defiance of the administration’s top military leadership,” said Matt Thorn, president of OutServe-SLDN.
The Palm Center, a think tank that advocates for gay troops, said the move was an attempt to appeal to “the Trump-Pence base.”
The number of transgender troops serving in the military is heatedly debated. The 2016 RAND study figured there were between about 2,000 and 11,000 in both active duty and the reserves, while gay rights groups say the number is higher.
It’s also unclear how many of those current troops would fit into the exceptions Mr. Mattis laid out that would allow them to continue serving.
Mr. Trump’s new policy will have to convince courts, who’d ruled the first go-around violates troops’ constitutional rights to equal protection.
The new policy would apply to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard, which is a branch of military service but situated in the Homeland Security Department.
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