President Trump issued a memorandum last week reinstating a ban on transgender individuals serving openly in the United States military and forbidding the Department of Defense from providing medical treatment related to healthcare for transgender service members.
There are currently 1,320 to 6,630 transgender people serving in the military. Trump has instructed the Department of Defense and Homeland Security to assess how to handle those transgender troops already serving, refusing to say whether or not they would be permitted to remain in the military. Should the Defense Department decide to discharge all of those troops, it will end up costing them hundreds of millions of dollars.
Army Captain Jennifer Sims, who is based in Germany and currently preparing for her transition surgery, told the Associated Press that the President’s decision contradicted the speech he made last week during which he praised the military for their tolerance and celebrated that service members come from all walks of life but are united by their values and shared sense of duty.
“Being transgender had absolutely no impact on my fitness for duty,” says Army Captain Jennifer Peace, a transgender woman who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 while transitioning. “There should be no transgender standard—there should be an Army standard. If I can make the Army standard, I should be able to serve.”
The ACLU has already filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on behalf of six current members of the military, arguing that the ban violates the Constitution’s promise of equal protection under the law, as well as violating due process by singling out transgender individuals for discrimination.
The new rule officially enacts the Tweet that Trump issued a month ago calling for the end of the 2016 Obama-era initiative to allow transgender troops to serve openly in the military. At the time, Politico reported that the President’s decision to ban transgender troops was a trade-off so that House Republicans would fund his Mexican border wall in their spending bill. Some far-right House Republicans were allegedly opposed to the spending bill because they were against defense spending being used to pay for service member’s transition surgery, but were never opposed to transgender individuals serving.
A 2016 RAND Corporations study commissioned by the Defense Department concluded that letting these troops serve openly would have “minimal impact” on readiness and healthcare costs, largely because there are so few in the military’s 1.3 million-member force. Specifically, the study estimates the total costs for hormone treatment and gender transition surgery could range from $2.4 million to $8.4 million, an amount which would also represent “an exceedingly small proportion” of total military healthcare expenditures, which amount to more than $50 billion per year, including $84 million a year on erectile dysfunction medications.
The same week of President Trump’s July Twitter announcement, the Department of Justice filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect LGBT people from employment discrimination. The brief will be considered when the court hears the case of Zarda v. Altitude Express, in which the plaintiff alleges he was fired from his job in 2010 because he is gay.
Title VII prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex but remains vague when applied to the rights of LGBTQ people. However, a growing number of courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have determined that Title VII can protect LGBTQ individuals against discrimination due to the notion that firing an employee as a result of their nontraditional physical appearance or sexual preference amounts to prejudice. The Justice Department’s brief, and its contentious timing, implies that the transgender troops currently serving could be discharged, or essentially fired, because of their gender identity.
Media Resources: CNN 8/25/17; Washington Post 8/26/17; ACLU 8/28/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 7/26/17, 7/31/17,