Nearly one month after President Trump announced via Twitter he’d ban transgender people from the armed forces, he made good on his promise Friday in a memo in the Pentagon reinstating a ban on their service.
In a memo dated Aug. 25, Trump asserts the Obama administration “failed to identify a sufficient basis” to end the ban on transgender military service in June 2016 and directs the U.S. military to put the prohibition back in place.
“I am directing the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the U.S. Coast Guard, to return to the longstanding policy and practice on military service by transgender individuals that was in place prior to June 2016 until such time as a sufficient basis exists upon which to conclude that terminating that policy and practice would not have the negative effects discussed above,” the memo says.
Citing dubious concerns openly transgender service will have negative impact on military effectiveness and lethality as well as unit cohesion, Trump concludes “further study is needed to ensure that continued implementation of last year’s policy change would not have those negative effects.”
Under the Obama administration, former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter lifted the longstanding medical regulation barring transgender people serving in the armed forces. The guidance from the White House effectively reverses that decision.
The Trump memo has two major components. The first continues the Pentagon practice of barring openly transgender people from enlisting in the armed forces. Although the Obama change allowed transgender people to come out in the military without fear of discharge, it delayed transgender accession until a later time. That policy — already extended by Defense Secretary James Mattis to continue until 2018 — will now be continued indefinitely.
The second part of the memo bars U.S. government resources “to fund sex reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel” except in case where the procedure is necessary to protect the life of an individual already undergoing transition. The memo gives the Pentagon until March 23 to implement this change.
It’s not immediately clear whether this policy means dependents of U.S. service members are also ineligible for gender reassignment surgery.
The memo also instructs the Pentagon to prepare by Feb. 21 an implementation plan for the instituting policies aimed at blocking transgender people from open service.
With respect to transgender people who began serving openly in the military after the Obama-era change, the memo gives significantly leeway to the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security, which operates the Coast Guard.
“As part of the implementation plan, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military,” the memo says.
Dana White, assistant for public affairs to the secretary of defense, affirmed the Pentagon had received the memo, but withheld further comment.
“The Department of Defense has received formal guidance from the White House in reference to transgender personnel serving in the military,” White said. “More information will be forth coming.”
Transgender rights advocates blasted Trump for instituting the memo, pledging to fight the ban on transgender military service in court.