It’s been just over a month since President Trump created policy with three tweets that seemingly reversed 2016 DoD policy allowing transgender military members to serve openly and barring them for being removed from the military based solely on their transgender status. On August 25, the president signed a memo codifying the tweets into policy.
Mattis released a statement on August 29 announcing that “The department [DoD] will carry out the president’s policy direction, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security.” A panel will be convened with experts from the DHS and the DoD, and Mattis will make his recommendations to the president. “In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place,” the document states.
But many advocates, politicians, and members of the military community have already moved to work on behalf of those already serving and those who wish to serve who are transgender. Here’s what has happened and is happening in response to the transgender policy:
Military community leaders
Leaders–both active and retired–have made their opposition to the White House’s transgender policy public. A letter that 56 retired generals and admirals from every branch of the military signed said, “Patriotic transgender Americans who are serving—and who want to serve—must not be dismissed, deprived of medically necessary health care, or forced to compromise their integrity or hide their identity.”
Senator and former POW John McCain (R-AZ) has been outspoken in the face of the policy reversal as well. “Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving. There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train and deploy to leave the military — regardless of their gender identity,” McCain said in a press release.
Other senators and representatives who have served or are currently serving and support transgender service members include Ted Lieu (D-CA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Joni Ernst (R-IA). It should be noted that Ernst supports trans troops serving, but that taxpayers “shouldn’t cover the costs associated with gender reassignment surgery.”
Richard Spencer, the Secretary of the Navy, broke with the president and made comments to reporters before the transgender ban was formalized that “any patriot that wants to serve and meets all the requirements should be able to serve in our military.” He confirmed that he would follow policy outlined by the president.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft made personal calls to those serving openly in the Coast Guard after news of the policy reversal. He recounted that during a phone call to Lt. Taylor Miller, the first openly transitioning officer in the Coast Guard, he said, “I will not turn my back. We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard and I will not break faith.”
Representing members of the military, two lawsuits have been filed challenging President Trump’s policy.
Filed in a Seattle federal Court, Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN are representing two people–both with military legacies in their families–who cannot enlist under the current transgender policy and a trans woman who is currently serving. The suit also names the Human Rights Campaign and the Gender Justice League as plaintiffs and names President Trump, all federal agencies that would work to implement the policy change, Mattis, and the DoD as defendants.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in Maryland on behalf of six currently serving members of the military, all of whom “publicly revealed” that they were transgender after the 2016 Open Service Directive from the DoD. At least one of the plaintiffs’ health care treatments has been placed on hold because of the policy reversal. The lawsuit names the president, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, the Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, and the Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy as defendants.
Senators Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and co-sponsor Susan Collins (R-ME) are preparing a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to address the transgender policy, according to the Washington Post. While it’s unclear what that definitively looks like right now, CNN reports that it “would prevent the Trump administration from ending medical payments or discharging transgender service members.”
An NDAA amendment introduced in July before the President’s ban sought to restrict the Pentagon from paying for transgender health care procedures. 24 House Republicans joined Democrats to vote Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s (R-MO) amendment down. It is reported that Mattis personally called Hartzler, asking her to remove the amendment, which she declined to do.
The American Military Partner Association, the nation’s largest organization for military-connected LGBT+ families, is encouraging people to support transgender military personnel through an online campaign.
Six transgender military members and veterans walked the red carpet at MTV’s Video Music Awards on August 27. In a statement, MTV’s president, Chris McCarthy said, “Any patriot who is putting their own life at risk to fight for our freedom and stand for equality is a hero at MTV, and to young people everywhere.”
By J.G. Noll