Defense Department Approves Policy to Ban Most Trans People From the Military

Trans service members testify to Congress.
Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the Department of Defense has approved a new policy that will prevent most transgender people from serving in the military. The new version of Trump’s proposed ban isn’t as all-encompassing as his original proposal, but it will have the same effect, barring nearly all trans people. A legal injunction that stalled the new policy was lifted last week, allowing the DOD to move forward.

From AP:

Under the new rules, currently serving transgender troops and anyone who has signed an enlistment contract by April 12 may continue with plans for hormone treatments and gender transition if they have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

But after April 12, no one with gender dysphoria who is taking hormones or has transitioned to another gender will be allowed to enlist. And any currently serving troops diagnosed with gender dysphoria after April 12 will have to serve in their birth gender and will be barred from taking hormones or getting transition surgery.

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The AP obtained a memo describing the policy, which will be put into effect within 30 days. Exceptions are allowed on a case by case basis.

This deeply cruel and unscientific policy will likely result in the discharge of 13,700 of the estimated 15,000 trans troops currently serving, according to The Advocate. Though the directive doesn’t outright ban trans people from serving, it restricts their ability to serve if they have received or plan to receive treatment for gender dysphoria, or wish to serve under their current gender identity.

The memo says that service members can be discharged if they are “unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with his or her biological sex, or seeks transition to another gender.”

“A history of cross-sex hormone therapy or a history of sex reassignment or genital reconstruction surgery is disqualifying,” the memo adds.

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Democrats came out against the new policy.

“The President’s revival of his bigoted, disgusting ban on transgender servicemembers is a stunning attack on the patriots who keep us safe and on the most fundamental ideals of our nation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “The President’s years-long insistence on his cowardly ban makes clear that prejudice, not patriotism, guides his decisions.”

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Trans activists also condemned the ban.

“Throughout our nation’s history, we have seen arbitrary barriers in our military replaced with inclusion and equal standards,” Harper Jean Tobin, the director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement. “This is the first time in American history such a step forward has been reversed, and it is a severe blow to the military and to the nation’s values.”

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Until 2016, trans people in the military treated similarly to gay and lesbian troops prior to the end of “don’t ask don’t tell,” meaning troops could be discharged for being openly trans. President Obama moved to change that policy, allowing trans people who were already in the military to serve openly, and setting July 1, 2017 as the date that open trans people would be allowed to enlist.

Then Trump happened. And in July 2017 he tweeted his intention to ban trans people from the military entirely.

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As legal battles over the new policy raged, trans people were eventually allowed to enlist in the military. But their future has been deeply uncertain.

Trump’s reasons for supporting the ban, other than straight up bigotry, are opaque at best. One of the administration’s talking points in justifying the policy is the cost of trans health care. But that cost totals only $8 million since 2016, an afterthought in the $50 billion yearly military healthcare budget.

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“This horrific policy is even more cruel than ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ because the Pentagon explicitly told these service members it was finally safe to come out—and now they are being targeted for discrimination,” American Military Partner Association president Ashley Broadway-Mack told The Advocate.

“We emphatically condemn this unconscionable transgender military ban because it undermines military readiness, destroys unit cohesion, betrays our service members, and is based on nothing more than blatant bigotry,” she added.

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