Secretary of Defense James Mattis has announced he is preserving some pro-transgender policies imposed by former President Barack Obama until Pentagon deputies decide by March how to deal with serving soldiers who say they want to live as members of the other sex.
The decision seems to comply with President Donald Trump’s policy barring the recruitment of people who say they want to live as members of the other sex, and also ending the provision of free cosmetic “sex-change” surgery.
“Once the panel reports its recommendations and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning the implementation of his policy direction,” Mattis said in the August 29 statement. “In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.”
Some opponents of the Obama policy, however, fear that Mattis and holdover Obama officials might try to torpedo Trump’s return to the recruitment of only men and women who are sexually stable.
The Mattis announcement comes days after Trump issued a directive to Mattis and the Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke reversing Obama’s policy of allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. military and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Trump initially announced the decision back in July, citing “tremendous medical cost and disruption” of allowing transgender troops to serve. “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,” Trump in a series of tweets. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical cost and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”
According to media reports, Mattis was “appalled” by the manner of Trump’s announcement.
The decision also caused an uproar in progressive circles, with House Minority Leader Nanci Pelosi describing it as the unleashing of a “vile and hateful agenda that will blindside thousands of patriotic Americans,” while dividing opinion amongst veterans.
However, Trump has maintained his support for the return to pre-Obama policies, arguing he has done the military a “great favor.”
“It’s been a very difficult situation and I think I’m doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it,” Trump said earlier this month.
Trump’s directive said:
I am directing the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the U.S. Coast Guard, to return to the longstanding policy and practice on military service by transgender individuals that was in place prior to June 2016 ….
. . . The Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the U.S. Coast Guard, shall:
(a) maintain the currently effective policy regarding accession of transgender individuals into military service beyond January 1, 2018, until such time as the Secretary of Defense, after consulting with the Secretary of Homeland Security, provides a recommendation to the contrary that I find convincing; and
(b) halt all use of DoD or DHS resources to fund sex‑reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex.
. . . Section 2(a) of this memorandum shall take effect on January 1, 2018. Sections 1(b) and 2(b) of this memorandum shall take effect on March 23, 2018. By February 21, 2018, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall submit to me a plan for implementing both the general policy set forth in section 1(b) of this memorandum and the specific directives set forth in section 2 of this memorandum … Until the Secretary has made that determination, no action may be taken against such individuals under the policy set forth in section 1(b) of this memorandum.
Earlier this month, five transgender women in the US military filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon against the ban, asserting that the ban is unconstitutional.
Nevertheless, a RAND corporation study in 2016 found that transgender soldiers’ medical expenses remain an average of 14 times higher than a normal soldier.