President tweets a Transgender military ban

Jersey City, NJ Transgender March on February 3 2017. Photo by B. Nick.
File photo: Jersey City, NJ Transgender March on February 3 2017. Photo by B. Nick.

The President tweeted that transgender military members will be banned from serving in the armed forces. In a series of tweets posted early Wednesday morning, the President stated, “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. 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 will entail. Thank you.”

The social media postings immediately sparked an uproar as well as sharp criticism over President Trump’s own draft deferments during the Vietnam War. While thousands of young men were drafted and sent overseas, Trump received four college deferments and one medical deferment for foot problems, which he described as heel pain alleviated by stretches and orthotics.

The Department of Defense has allowed transgender military members to serve openly. The decision originated under former President Obama, and was under final review. Defense Secretary James Mattis had said previously that there would be a delay in implementing the policies to give himself time to review everything. Trump’s Tweets came less than a month into the six-month time frame set by Mattis.

The American Military Partners Association released a statement, with President Ashley Broadway-Mack saying, “This is a horrifying, vicious attack on thousands of actively serving troops in the military who happen to be transgender. Transgender service members are risking their lives around the world, and President Trump literally just put a target on their backs, threatening to ruin their careers and kick them out of the military. This is unconscionable, and we are beyond outraged.”

The tweets came as a surprise to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were unaware that Trump was making such a move. Chairman General Joseph Dunford has told those affected service members that there will be “no modifications to the current policy until the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidelines.”

“In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect,” Dunford wrote in a memo to the military. “As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”

“This is an outrageous and desperate action,” said Joshua Black, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project. “The thousands of transgender service members serving on the front lines for this country deserve better than a commander-in-chief who rejects their basic humanity. Let us be clear. This has been studied extensively, and the consensus is clear: There are no cost or military readiness drawbacks associated with allowing trans people to fight for their country. The president is trying to score cheap political points on the backs of military personnel who have put their lives on the line for their country. There is no basis for turning trans people away from our military and the ACLU is examining all of our options on how to fight this. For any trans service member affected by today’s announcement: Please get in touch with us, because we want to hear from you.”

In regards to the costs referenced by the President, a 2016 study done by the RAND Corporation contradicts his “tremendous medical costs” statement. The study estimated between 1,320 to 5,530 transgender service members were on active duty with 1,500 on reserve. Not all of those individuals have opted for medical transition, and between 30 and 140 service members seeking hormone treatments, and 25-130 seeing surgical treatment. In June, Pentagon officials told the Associated Press that 250 members of the military had applied to change their gender in their personnel file, which doesn’t necessarily mean they will pursue surgical treatments.

Using private health insurance data, RAND found that the costs of transition treatments would be between $2.4 million and $8.4 million per year. To put it in perspective, consider the following expenses that the military has submitted in the past two years:

  • $16.3 million for an M1 tank, according to the 2015 Department of Defense budget
  • $164.3 million for an F-35, according to a Department of Defense release to Congress
  • Up to $33 million for the Marine Corps request for 11,000 M27 Infantry Automatic Rifles
  • $31 million for an Apache helicopter
  • $400,000 for a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle
  • $170,000 for a per-person personnel cost
  • And the government shells out $3.6 million each time Trump travels down to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, according to the Government Accountability Office. (source NBC News)