Of course, it’s outrageous that President Trump has now officially issued an order banning transgender people from enlisting in the military. His triple-tweet statement a month ago introducing this idea — and taking all his top military officials by surprise — was bad enough. But seeing as it was Twitter, not exactly the forum for official U.S. policy, we all hoped he would just let it dissipate into the cyber ether. But no such luck. The White House has now issued an official directive — although they conveniently put it out on a late summer Friday afternoon, just as a bully of a hurricane bearing down on Texas has commandeered the news cycle.
However, the official directive doesn’t offer any more substance on this issue than Trump’s tweets did. In fact, it’s mystifying that the president would say there is no basis for concluding that allowing transgender troops to serve in the military would not hinder military readiness or unit cohesion. There are already 18 militaries around the world that allow transgender people to serve openly. Of the four studied closely by the Rand Corp. for its report on transgender people in the military, none reported a negative impact on operational readiness or cohesion. Also, there are already an estimated 2,450 transgender people on active duty in the U.S. military. And it’s possible they would have a legal case for discrimination. Five transgender women in the military have already filed a lawsuit accusing Trump and the Pentagon of unconstitutional discrimination.
However, Trump put some interesting stipulations in the directive that could eventually get us out of this ill-considered policy and allow him to save face as well. For one thing, he leaves it up to his secretary of Defense, James N. Mattis, to decide the fate of transgender men and women already serving. (He will probably let them continue with their service unless there is some other reason, beside their gender status, to dismiss them. Why would he not?)
And Trump says the policy stays — until the secretary of Defense advises him “at any time” that a change is warranted. That truly puts this in Mattis’ court. As it is, Mattis had delayed full implementation of President Obama’s July 2016 order to allow transgender troops into the military until more research could be done. That study was expected by the end of the year.
Mattis should continue that study and, when it’s completed — if not before — offer Trump a bill of particulars for allowing transgender troops in the military immediately. Then let’s put this ignoble move behind the country and the military.