President Donald Trump has issued orders to ban transgender troops from serving in the military except in select cases. The memorandum states that “persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — including individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery — are disqualified from military service except under limited circumstances.” The statement also says that the secretary of defense and other executive branch officials will have some latitude in implementing the policy.
The measure is targeted at transgender troops who require surgery or significant medical treatment. A White House statement said that the new policy “will enable the military to apply well-established mental and physical health standards — including those regarding the use of medical drugs — equally to all individuals who want to join and fight for the best military force the world has ever seen.” The order affects all branches of the military, including the U.S. Coast Guard.
The order drew swift condemnation from gender rights groups. LGBT advocates called the decision “appalling, reckless and unpatriotic.” Matt Thorn, president of OutServe-SLDN, said, “This policy is a thinly veiled and feeble attempt by the Trump-Pence administration to justify the unnecessary discrimination of qualified patriots in order to advance their own personal agendas and in defiance of the administration’s top military leadership.”
The ban on transgender troops was lifted in June 2016 and those already in uniform were allowed to begin serving openly. In 2016, there was an estimated 4,000 transgender troops serving on active duty and in the reserves. LGBT advocacy groups put the estimate much higher.
The move follows through on a controversial pledge made by the president last year. Last July, President Donald Trump declared in a surprise tweet that transgender individuals would no longer be able to serve in the military. Formal guidance followed in August that directed the Pentagon to develop a plan to bar transgender individuals from serving.
The Pentagon was also directed to end government-funded sex reassignment surgeries for troops. The only exception was to protect the health of a service member who had already begun to transition. The order is under review by the Pentagon and is being fought in the courts.
The efforts to ban transgender service members from serving have faced a number of setbacks, including multiple lawsuits arguing that the ban is unconstitutional. Four federal courts have already issued preliminary injunctions in related cases. Many expect the issue to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.