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Trump orders Pentagon to reinstate ban on transgender people in the military

Protesters take to the streets against President Trump's announcement. (Associated Press)
Protesters take to the streets against President Trump's announcement. (Associated Press)

President Trump has directed the Pentagon to “return to the long-standing policy and practice” barring military service by transgender individuals, guidance that the Pentagon previously said was needed before it could act on the president’s Twitter messages on the issue.

The three-page memorandum allows Defense Secretary James N. Mattis to determine whether self-declared transgender members of the military can continue to serve.

The guidance reverses a year-old Obama administration policy that ended a ban on transgender people in the armed services and the Coast Guard, which comes under the Homeland Security Department. It gives those departments until Jan. 1 to implement the policy. 

Trump's memo also directs the Pentagon to stop providing sex-reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel – unless it would hurt the person in the midst of transition.

"In my judgment, the previous administration failed to identify a sufficient basis to conclude that terminating the departments' long-standing policy and practice would not hinder military effectiveness and lethality, disrupt unit cohesion, or tax military resources, and there remain meaningful concerns that further study is needed to ensure that continued implementation of last year's policy change would not have those negative effects," Trump wrote. 

He said he therefore had decided to return to the policy that was in place prior to June 2016, when President Obama changed it. 

The guidance follows Trump’s announcement on Twitter in June that the military "will not accept or allow" transgender service members "in any capacity."

The Pentagon was caught flat-footed by the tweets. Top U.S. commanders publicly said there would be no change until the White House issued formal guidance.

Defense officials and White House have worked to draw up the guidance so the Pentagon could reverse course on allowing transgender individuals into the military in such a way that the changes would stand up in court.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi condemned the decision Friday.

"Prejudice, not the national defense, is behind President Trump’s cruel decision to kick transgender troops out of the military," she said in a statement.

She said that a study commissioned by the Defense Department had found the cost of providing medical care for transgender troops would be miniscule.

"In fact, every year, the Pentagon spends five times more on Viagra than they would for transition-related care," she said.

Trump, she added, "should have more respect for the transgender men and women who had the patriotism and bravery to serve our country in uniform.”

Trump’s declaration drew rebuke from many war veterans and LGBT advocacy groups, who vowed to challenge the president in federal court if self-identified transgender service members were forced out of the military.

A federal lawsuit was filed on Aug. 9 on behalf of five transgender service members who seek to block implementation of the ban while the suit proceeds.

Attorneys representing those service members from the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders called Trump’s memo “shameful.”

“Our military is strongest when all people who are fit to serve have the opportunity to do so,” Jennifer Levi, GLAD Transgender Rights Project Director, said in a statement. “This unprecedented policy amounts to a purge of qualified, contributing troops, and will serve only to undermine unit cohesion and weaken military readiness.”

Several powerful Republican lawmakers — including Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah — expressed outright opposition, suggesting the policy might get slow-rolled in hearings and studies.

The White House memo says the Pentagon should submit final plans on implementation to the White House by Feb. 21.

The document is addressed to the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps fall under Defense, while the Coast Guard is part of Homeland Security.

The Pentagon keeps no figures on transgender personnel in the military. Outside groups estimate there are between 1,300 and 15,000 transgender troops in the military, which has an active-duty force of about 1.3 million.

Read the memo>>

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