In a series of tweets from his personal account, US President Donald Trump announced this morning that transgender people would no longer be permitted to serve in the US military. This discriminatory decision not only jeopardizes the careers of thousands of transgender personnel now serving, it also sends a dangerous message that some personnel are unfit to serve solely because of who they are.
The tweets mark a sharp reversal of recent Department of Defense (DoD) policy. In 2011, Congress repealed the infamous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and allowed lesbian, gay, and bisexual personnel openly to serve in the military. In 2016, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that DoD was lifting the ban on transgender service and would cover transition-related healthcare costs for service members.
In his tweets, Trump justified reinstating a blanket ban on transgender service by citing the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” that inclusion would entail. Yet, a study commissioned by the DoD concluded last year that allowing transgender service members to serve openly would have “minimal impact on readiness and health care costs,” around US$2.4 million to $8.4 million in a military healthcare budget of $6.2 billion. To put this in perspective, the military spends $41.6 million on Viagra each year.
Because Trump made the announcement on Twitter, the scope and details of the ban are unclear. A tweet from the president does not invalidate federal regulations, and the DoD’s Directive-Type Memorandum 16-005 and Instruction 1300.28, which provide guidance on transgender service, formally remain in place. The executive branch has not issued any written policy beyond the tweets, and multiple lawmakers – including GOP Senators Orrin Hatch, Richard Shelby, and John McCain – expressed concern about the decision shortly after it was announced.
Lawmakers are right to condemn today’s discriminatory announcement, but transgender personnel need more than their sympathy. Trump’s dubious arguments about cost and disruption are no justification for a policy that bans all transgender people from serving in the US military. A year after transgender people began to openly serve, those concerns are so far-fetched that it’s hard to see them as anything other than half-hearted excuses for a deliberate act of discrimination. As the details of Trump’s new policy emerge, Congress should act swiftly to ensure that prejudice has no place in the armed forces and transgender people are able to serve their country openly and freely.