President Donald Trump announced this week that transgender individuals will no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. The president made the announcement in a series of Tweets early Wednesday morning, stating that the decision was based on consultations with military leaders and experts and would help U.S. armed forces focus on “decisive and overwhelming victory.”
The decision reverses President Barack Obama’s previous policy change allowing transgender individuals to openly serve in the armed forces. Information on the current number of active-duty service members who identify as transgender varies by source; the National Center for Trans Equality puts the number at more than 15,000, while the Rand Corporation cites a much lower figure — approximately 2,450 individuals. It is unclear how the U.S. Department of Defense plans to enforce the new policy as it applies to people already enlisted.
In June, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stated that Pentagon officials would have six months to review the impact of accepting transgender recruits. Trump’s sudden decision on the matter was largely unexpected, though it settles a current Congressional stalemate over military spending. Recently, some conservative members of Congress have opposed a $700 billion defense budget on the grounds that some of the money might be spent on transgender-related medical expenses. An amendment stipulating that Defense Department funds cannot be used to pay for transition surgery or hormone therapy for service members recently failed to pass the House, leaving the fate of the military budget uncertain. With the president’s announcement, the debate becomes moot.
A recent study by the Rand Corporation found that medical costs for transgender service members would increase military healthcare spending by no more than 0.13 percent. The organization also determined that the inclusion of such individuals had little to no effect on military operations and preparedness in other countries that accept transgender recruits.
Human rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union immediately denounced the president’s decision, and numerous LGBTQ activists took to social media to protest the new ban. Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) released a statement calling the policy change “a direct attack on transgender Americans.”