What is going on with the Presidential Statements to Ban Transgender Volunteers from the Military?

On Wednesday, July 26th, 2017 President Trump took to twitter to release a small series of tweets that seemed to shock many.

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 would entail. Thank you

Initial responses revealed many in the military were caught off guard by the decree. According to sources close to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, he didn’t have much time to prepare for Trump’s release of the statement (one day, in fact, indicating that maybe President Trump hadn’t had full discussions with all his generals over the issue) and was “appalled” by the tweets which he saw as insulting to transgender people currently serving in the military. General Mattis has been researching a study, and actually extended it, on looking into transgender affairs (such as suicide risk) and its intersection with military affairs. Apparently this did not deem Mattis as a necessary consult for this decision.

Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said that “he has not received ‘directives for implementation’… and learned about the President’s decision through the media”.

When initially confronted about the topic, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders indicated that there was no preparation in place for the implementation of this policy. She said the new policy was “something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together on as implementation takes place.” She added that the two entities would work to make the shift “lawfully.” She also did not seem to have information on currently active transgender service members, again indicating that there was no fallback plan and in fact no plan at all to go forward.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff revealed in a memo to staff that policy would not change until the President could identify a full directional shift, as well as implementation measures, indicating the Pentagon is not going to blindly follow this rash statement. He said that current service members will retain their service status and will continue to be treated with respect.

This is a particularly tricky subject because the U.S. military is volunteer based and therefore it is seen that it is not a right to serve for the country, but rather more a privilege. Military officials seem skeptical to bar transgender service members because the ability to serve in an all-volunteer army is a civil right. This stems from the thought that if people are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to defend the tenets of democracy and specifically the U.S.A, then they should be able to access the proper organizations and hierarchies.

The military recognizes the tweets are not policy and thus currently policy will remain in tact. Most see this as responsible; if the U.S. is going to change policy, it needs to go through traditional routes to avoid abuses of power and ensure a balance on powers between the branches of government, also including the bureaucracy. This is kind of contradictory to White House statements where resigning Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked if President Trump’s tweets qualify as official statements and Spicer said that because “he is the President, … they’re considered official statements by the President of the United States” and thus should be regarded with full sincerity as accurate reflections of the administration’s stances.

Some consider this ban as a violation of core aspects of the military. The military is supposed to be open to those willing to serve a purpose greater than themselves, “open to those wishing, and willing, to act on their patriotism”. Providing a specific case study of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (and also remember case studies of segregation via race and prohibition by gender), reconnaissance platoon leader and executive officer Noah Strangio says that discriminatory policies (while on the surface working to protect this special class of people; Sebastian Gorka, presidential aide, says that the ban is to protect transgender civilians from the unnecessary stresses of military life and thus shows the president’s “warmth”) serve to encourage and foster discriminatory and violate ideologies. Keeping in mind “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, homophobia was acceptable and experienced “internalized oppression”.

The initial reason behind the ban that the president provided was to mitigate financial burdens. The Rand Corporation published a study and found that estimated costs of transgender health care would range between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, which seems like a lot until you break it down to $0.22 per service member per month (the Department of Defense had a budget of $6 billion for healthcare in 2014). Social media exploded with comparisons of transgender healthcare to funding for Viagra. The numbers people were citing were accurate. In 2014, the Pentagon spent $84 million on erectile dysfunction (ED) prescriptions like Viagra or Cialis. The rampant use of these drugs is to to the largely psychological causes of ED, rather than the physical causes, like PTSD or depression. Interesting to see that the government is more willing to spend money on the side effects of disorders often caused by military service, rather than medical adjustments that could help boost the mindset of transgender soldiers.

There were some congressional members calling for a reduction in military spending on transgender medical costs, but nothing resembling an all-out abolition of the Obama policy. The legislative branch’s research arm has been analyzing this new development and found that Congress may take action to delay or even undo whatever it is President Trump hopes to accomplish.

Whether the administration and Congress decide to go forward with a ban, a plan needs to be made and goals need to be assessed. NPR developed 5 important questions that need to be answered for anyone to understand the weight of this policy. What kind of “ban does Trump want? What does this mean for current troops? What will Congress do? What will Trump do next? Could the Pentagon drop medical support for transgender troops?

It is easy to be scared or just anxious about the future of the LGBTQ community with rhetoric and actions like this, so please consider these questions and questions like these going forward when trying to decipher true policy from self-interested and singular rhetoric. If there is anything to remember from this article, it is that the government and bureaucracy is a house divided, on all fronts: the three branches of government, the bureaucracy, and the military.



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Darby Matt

Darby Matt

Drake University International Relations (MENA focused), Socio-Legal studies, religious studies and Arabic graduate. This is a blog-like post to learn and share