In-Depth: Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), Chair of the Equality Caucus’ Transgender Equality Task Force, introduced this resolution to reject President Donald Trump’s ban on openly transgender servicemembers and urge the Dept. of Defense (DOD) to not reinstate a discriminatory policy:
“No one willing to serve in our armed services and sacrifice for this country should be subjected to intolerance and bigotry from their commander-in-chief. But beyond the message sent to our servicemembers, the President’s tweets sent a hateful, harmful message to every single transgender man, woman and child in this nation. Today, my colleagues and I are not only rejecting this misguided policy, but telling every transgender American that they are seen, they are heard, and they will not be erased or discounted by their government.”
The National Center for Transgender Equality supports this bill and its executive director, Mara Keisling, offered the following statement:
“Our service members should never be subjected to such animus and bigotry, and none of them should ever be forced to live a lie in order to serve their country. The new pro-equality majority of the House is in a unique position to finally put a check on this reckless President and his constant attempts to erase transgender people.”
In comments at the Veterans in Global Leadership event in Washington, D.C. in July 2018, former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus called the transgender servicemember ban “the dumbest government policy you could possibly pursue” and argued that it “weakens [the U.S.] and hurts our military.” Mabus — who was known for his progressive activism as Navy Secretary and pushed for the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy’s repeal — added:
“I have this notion, that if you can do a job, the only qualification to get that job ought to be the ability to do the job. Color or race or ethnicity or gender or who you love, or what your sexual identity is ought to be irrelevant. Who cares?”
Thomas Spoehr, the director of the Center for National Defense, argues that transgender persons may be unsuited for military service due to their unique medical needs:
"Certainly, [transgender persons'] desire to serve is laudable. But desire to serve does not, of itself, answer the fundamental question of whether a transgender individual's service helps or harms military readiness. These individuals would need medical treatments — hormone therapies and, often, surgeries and the accompanying recovery times — throughout the duration of their service. On this basis alone, under existing rules applicable to all, they would not be allowed to join. But putting that aspect aside, there is another readiness-related question that must be asked: Are transgender individuals as mentally resilient and as able to withstand the extreme stresses of the harsh crucible of combat as non-transgender individuals? Some studies report that transgender individuals attempt suicide and experience psychological distress at rates many times the U.S. national average. To be clear, this is self-reported data, not data gleaned from rigorously controlled, clinical tests. But at this time, these survey results are the best available data. It would be both irresponsible and immoral to place such individuals in a position where they are exposed to the additional extraordinary stresses and pressures of the battlefield."
This resolution has 191 Democratic cosponsors. It also has the endorsements of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Palm Center, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Lambda Legal, OutServe-SLDN, the American Military Partner Association, and SPARTA.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, introduced a bill to allow transgender people to serve in the military in February 2019. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced a House companion bill, which Rep. Kennedy signed on to as one of four bipartisan cosponsors. When she introduced her bill, Sen. Gillibrand said:
“President Trump’s ban on transgender service members is discrimination, it undermines our military readiness, and it is an insult to the brave and patriotic transgender Americans who choose to serve in our military. The heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have all testified to Congress that transgender service members are serving in our military without any problems. We should end this discriminatory ban for good and ensure our transgender service members can continue to do their jobs, serve with dignity, and protect our country. That’s what our legislation would do, and I urge my colleagues in Congress to fight with me to overturn the President’s cruel and unnecessary ban, respect the transgender troops who are willing to die for our country, and pass this bipartisan bill now.”
Of Note: Transgender troops have been serving openly since June 2016, which the Obama administration lifted the previous ban on their service. In July 2017, President Trump announced that he’d reverse the Obama administration’s policy in a series of tweets:
“After consultations 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.”
Four lawsuits were filed against Trump’s transgender military ban, and lower courts in all four cases issued injunctions blocking the policy from taking effect while the suits made their way through the courts.
In March 2018, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis released a policy that’d allow transgender people to serve in the military if they did so in their biological sex. On March 12, 2019, The Pentagon announced its plans to enact Mattis’ policy, requiring transgender people who join the armed forces to serve in the gender of their birth starting in April 2019. Secretaries of each branch of the military would be allowed to grant waivers on a case-by-case basis. Otherwise, people diagnosed with gender dysphoria wouldn’t be able to serve unless a doctor certified they’d been stable in their biological sex for 36 months, have not transitioned to the gender they identify with, and are willing to serve in their biological sex.
The Pentagon’s announcement comes after a federal judge in Maryland lifted an injunction preventing the transgender military ban from taking effect after the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to lift two other holds in February 2019.
GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) director Jennifer Levi argues that the Pentagon remains constrained by the fourth injunction against the transgender military ban, which has yet to be lifted:
“With brazen disregard for the judicial process, the Pentagon is prematurely and illegally rolling out a plan to implement the ban when a court injunction remains in place prohibiting them from doing so. In addition to being unlawful, moving forward with this ban is also deeply immoral and deeply insulting to the many transgender troops who are bravely serving their country.”
The Dept. of Justice (DOJ) is seeking to have the final injunction dissolved, now that the Supreme Court has ruled to allow the Trump administration to enact the transgender servicemembers ban.
After the DOD announced its decision to implement the transgender servicemember ban, Rep. Speier said:
“I would like to know what it is that the President is so afraid of? Transgender troops have served for decades and carried out multiple deployments, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, to protect our country and freedoms. These tough, brave servicemembers have never used bone spurs as an excuse to dodge their duty and service to our country. We owe them our gratitude, not government-sanctioned discrimination. This policy is malicious, demeaning, and destructive and it does not serve our country’s interests. I will fight it with every fiber of my being.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Camrocker)