Trump’s Ban on Transgender People Serving in US Military

Ladies and gentlemen, we have yet another spurt of ignorance from the US Commander-in-Chief. And surprise, surprise, this far-reaching policy decision was brought to our attention via Twitter. Trump’s announcement today of a ban on transgender people serving in the military once again demonstrates his inability to think deeply.

The consequences of this decision are far bigger than he understands. It will, of course, please the few people who still support him – evangelical Christians. I suspect that’s what he care’s about the most, and I bet Vice-President Mike Pence is cheering him on from the sidelines.

The Announcement

Here are the tweets in question:

“After Consultation with my Generals …”

Actually, this appears to have come as a complete surprise to the Pentagon. In addition, Defense Secretary General Mattis is currently on leave.

The Pentagon is referring everyone to the White House for comment.

The Associated Press says:

The Pentagon seems to have been unaware that President Donald Trump has decided to bar transgender people from the military.

A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, refused to answer questions about what Trump’s tweeted announcement means for the current policy, including whether transgender people already serving in the military will be kicked out.

“Call the White House,” he said.

Does A Ban on Transgender People Save Money?

It appears from his tweets that one of the reasons for Trump’s ban is the potential medical cost of transgender people to the military. I assume this is if a transgender person chooses to have sex reassignment surgery, and it’s true this is expensive. However, there just aren’t that many transgender people, and saving the potential cost of reassignment surgery is a drop in the bucket. Currently, the US military spends around US$41 million on Viagra alone.

If the US military really wants to save money, it could just institute the recommendations of last year’s Inspector General’s report.

According to the Washington Times (and elsewhere) the Army made:

… $2.8 trillion worth of wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year.

The report says further:

According to Jack Armstrong, a former Defense Inspector General official in charge of auditing the Army General Fund, the practice of cooking the army’s books was so widely accepted that some employees of the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS), which handles Defense Department accounting, referred to the task of preparing the Army’s year-end statements as “the grand plug.” “Plug” is accounting jargon for inserting made-up numbers.

Waste at the Pentagon is nothing new, but it may have soared to new heights. Multiple financial scandals have emerged from U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, with ProPublica estimating the cost of wasteful and misguided expenditures to be $17 billion.

Apparently the Pentagon is unable to pass an audit it’s accounting practices are so bad, and this has been going on for years.

The military has much more to worry about than the medical costs of a small number of transgender people.

The Cost of a Ban on Transgender People from the Military

According to the Washington Post:

Thousands of troops currently serving in the military are transgender, and some estimates place the number as high as 11,000 in the reserves and active duty military, according to a Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Defense Department.

The military will need to find replacements for those people, which in itself is an expensive exercise. Then they will require training, equipment, and other costs to get them acting effectively. Of course, the knowledge of transgender military people will be lost forever.

When it comes to active duty personnel, the Rand Corporation estimates c. 1,320-6,630 transgender people serve i.e. 0.1% – 0.5% of active duty personnel. Those are the ones for whom the military would need to potentially pay for gender reassignment surgery. (Not all transgender people want such surgery.) They further estimate that medical costs for those people would be US$2.4 – US$8.4 million per year. That is, 0.001% of the 2016 military budget.

In addition, all money spent on the work done in the past year on integrating transgender people properly into the US  military has gone to waste.

There is a potential financial cost that is likely to be exponentially higher than these costs, big as they are. Carson further said to the Washington Post:

… just from the tweets it seems as if what he is doing is rolling back already implemented policies, which will force … several hundred openly transgender service members out of the military. This will be personal tragedy for them [and] a professional loss for the military, and it’s going to invite litigation that will distract the Department of Defense for months, if not years, to come.

And that potential litigation that will be a huge financial cost to the military. Potentially billions.

Does the Military Even Want a Ban on Transgender People?

Brad Carson is a former congressman who did work on transgender policies for the Obama administration. He said in an interview with the Washington Post:

“I said, ‘Here’s the threshold question: Do you want to separate transgender service members? Do you want to do that?’ And every single one of them said no … Now, maybe we can disagree about the fine points of accession policy or what kind of health care is provided, but that question of whether we should be separating able, competently serving service members, every single one of them said no.”

Defense Secretary James Mattis on a Ban on Transgender People in the Military

The ability of transgender people to serve fully in the military came following an announcement from former Defense Secretary Ash Carter just over a year ago. After a twelve month planning delay, it was due to begin on 1 July this year. Trump’s Defense Secretary announced a six-month delay in implementing the policy the day before (30 June 2017).  In the delay announcement he said (via Washington Post):

Since becoming the Secretary of Defense, I have emphasized that the Department of Defense must measure each policy decision against one critical standard: will the decision affect the readiness and lethality of the force? Put another way, how will the decision affect the ability of America’s military to defend the nation? It is against this standard that I provide the following guidance on the way forward in accessing transgender individuals into the military Services.

To me, this is ridiculous. How on earth could a person being transgender effect “lethality”? Are bullets less lethal when shot by a transgender person?

However, in his confirmation hearing General Mattis made clear that he had no problem with LGBT people serving in the military. His statement above is likely to be as the voice of his Commander-in-Chief.

Transgender Military Personnel in Other Countries

There are 18 countries around the world which have transgender people openly serving in their military, including New Zealand. All recruits have to meet the same standards during training, for promotion, and in every other way. Whether or not they are transgender is irrelevant.

Map of Countries with transgender military service

Note: Map is out of date. Argentina also allows transgender people to serve. (Source: Wikipedia Commons. Picture Credit: JayCoop. Click graphic to go to source.)

There are no reports of issues with having transgender people in the military in those countries, and several are known to have an excellent military. Most had women serving fully long before the US too.

Do Transgender People “Disrupt” the Military, as Trump Claims

There is no evidence that this is the case. The Washington Post report has this to say:

Following Mattis’s announcement last month, Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a think tank that has helped the Pentagon research transgender people serving in the military, released a statement condemning the move.

“For the past year, transgender troops have been serving openly and have been widely praised by their Commanders,​ ​as is the case in 18 allied militaries around the world including Israel​ and​ Britain,” Belkin said. “Yet members of Congress are denigrating the value of military service by transgender troops, and Service Chiefs are pressuring Secretary Mattis to continue the transgender enlistment ban despite having no new arguments or data to back up their long-discredited assertions.

“In light of the success of transgender military service, the extensive research confirming that inclusive policy promotes readiness, and the sad history of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ loyally-serving transgender troops deserve to know whether Secretary Mattis stands by the claim he made at his confirmation hearing that LGBT troops can indeed serve in a ‘lethal’ military.

Just Another Broken Trump Promise

There are a tiny number of occasions when Donald Trump has received my praise. I believe in giving credit where it’s due. One was a couple of sentences during his speech accepting the Republican Party nomination on 21 July 2016. He said:

As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.

Here he is saying that:

Even in a meeting of the most loyal Republicans, it’s clear the majority are changing. The applause at that statement was rapturous. Seeing the result of his comment, the next thing Trump said was:

As a Republican, I’m so happy to hear you cheering what I just said.

A few weeks earlier, Trump put out this tweet:

One would think that a person who wrote this would not even contemplate a ban on transgender people serving in the military just a year later.

Surveys of Transgender Rights in the USA

A poll by the non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) reports that a majority of USians oppose the transgender bathroom laws that some states are introducing or trying to introduce. A report from Reuters includes the following results:

• 53% oppose laws requiring people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate;

• 39 % favour laws requiring people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate;

• 65% of Democrats oppose laws requiring people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate;

• 57% of Independents oppose laws requiring people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate;

• 59% of Republicans support laws requiring people to use the bathroom corresponding to the gender on their birth certificate;

In an interview with Reuters, Robert Jones, the chief executive of PRRI said:

This is a case where it really is Republicans kind of pulling away and being more of an outlier to the rest of the country.

The same survey also looked at other LGBT rights including support for same-sex marriage. Jones further notes that the only group in the US that still strongly opposes any form of LGBT rights are white Evangelical Protestants.

The Real Reason Behind the Ban

Donald Trump is extremely unhappy with his Attorney-General Jeff Sessions. He has put out a series of tweets and said in a recent New York Times interview:

(Partial New York Times transcript.)
Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, “Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.” It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.

For a start, it’s horrifying that a president does not realize that the attorney-general works for the US people and not the president. Also, it’s only recently that Trump has begun to be upset with Sessions’ entirely correct decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. That, in my opinion, is because Trump has begun to realize he might be in serious trouble. He thinks a “friendly” attorney-general could protect him.

Thus he wants to get rid of Sessions. Despite the tough guy persona he likes to project, Trump is actually not very good at confrontation. Therefore he’s sending out a whole lot of tweets against Sessions in an attempt to force him to resign. Here are a couple of examples:

Sessions has made it clear he won’t resign, and he has plenty of support. He is very popular with the same people who support Trump. And, he is getting on and using the Justice Department to enforce Trump policies like deporting Mexicans. Several commentators are saying that sacking Sessions might be the one thing that would make his base back off from him.

Trump Plays the God Card

So, Trump wants to get rid of Sessions, but he knows that will upset the Evangelicals – the only people who still support him. Therefore he has to do something that the Evangelicals like even more than deporting Mexicans and that’s bigotry towards LGBT people. Evangelical Christians love their anti-transgender bathroom bills – they’re trying to get another one in Texas right now. Trump is thus banning transgender people from the military to get a few Brownie points with his base in the hope he will then be able to get away with sacking Sessions.

Here’s another tweet Trump sent out today that I think supports my hypothesis:

The Instagram video Trump links to is Trump saying:

And finally we believe that family and faith and not government and bureaucracy are the foundation of our society.

As Matthew Cobb said at Why Evolution is True, “Remind me, what does the First Amendment say again?”

Trump Putin cartoon

A Moving Speech from Representative Kennedy

This is the sort of speech a president should be making.

And I think we should give the last word to a US veteran:

Update 30 July 2017

Pliny the Inbetween has come up with a cartoon on the issue:


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42 Responses to “Trump’s Ban on Transgender People Serving in US Military”

  1. Ken says:

    Another thorough job of dismantling a Trump lie.

    I’m just little surprised he took you in with the line that he’d “…do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology”. That seems plainly another lie; that he was just using the LGBTQ community to attack refugees who are even lower on his list than they are.

    • rickflick says:

      Trump’s entire campaign was a charade. I was “not taken” in by anything he said because I knew he was a con artist of the first order. I don’t think he’s capable of holding a sincere belief that is not centered on self promotion. Trump voters may have been taken in, but not too many others.

    • Yakaru says:

      He only “cares” when a “foreign” hateful ideology is involved — that is, practiced by Muslims or refugees.

    • I agree. It also makes me wonder – is it okay in his mind if he attacks LGBT people, but not okay if Muslims do it.

  2. Mike says:

    I think the Military will just ignore the big orange Baby and carry on.

  3. rickflick says:

    I think your idea that Trump’s move was merely a tactical ploy to shore up his base sounds right. He and Bannon are gradually zeroing in on Sessions to get Mueller off his back.

  4. Steven in Tokyo says:

    Quote from your text: However, it’s no more expensive than the cost of, for example.

    Heather, I look forward to reading what you’ve written very much. Perhaps the sentence above is missing something …

    • Thanks Steven. Unfortunately, I can’t currently fix it. My site administration can’t be accessed even by me at certain hours of the day to foil hackers. It’s currently 3.30am in NZ, so I didn’t think I’d need to at this time. Iirc, it was a reference to the NZ$50 million spent per year on Viagra by the military.

  5. Randy schenck says:

    As a vet myself and a member of the human race, you have covered this recent idiotic move by this guy quite well. I think it was mom who once said – if you can think of nothing good to say then say nothing at all. Well, there is nothing good about this pathetic person and I hope the people who put this thing in office are seeing just how stupid they really are.

  6. Ken Kukec says:

    I’ve heard reports that, in the nine minutes between Trump’s ambiguous first tweet and the next, the Pentagon was concerned that he might be announcing a preemptive strike against North Korea.

    I wouldn’t put it past Trump to do so eventually, if it’s his last resort to deflect attention from Russiagate.

    These are the times that try men’s souls.

    • Yakaru says:

      That’s horrifying. So the Pentagon is also expecting such behavior. At least they’re monitoring his tweets constantly.

    • That’s one of the really worrying things about Trump. Pressing the war button could be a diversionary tactic and not a last resort.

    • Mark R. says:

      Wouldn’t it be the greatest irony of mankind’s history if WW III commenced with a tweet?

      After this Presidency, perhaps Congress should pass a law that requires a background check and psychiatric evaluation for anyone who has access to the nuclear launch codes.

      • j.a.m. says:

        It would take a Constitutional amendment to establish additional qualifications for the presidency. Congress has no power to do that.

  7. Randy schenck says:

    I forgot to mention to all those folks who are in or were in the military and go heavily republican in their belief and votes. Good luck to all of you because you should be reviewing your ideology. Having a boss that works for the Russians and possibly the Russian mob is a real find.

    • Yes – the tweet from a vet I found opposing this move was from a progressive vets organisation, and there aren’t many of those. I later saw an interview with the injured vet representative Tammy ? Duckworth (D), who vows to fight this move. John McCain has also spoken out in opposition to it.

      Apparently there was a bill introduced by a Republican last week re the military not paying for gender reassignment surgery. Republicans were split on the bill – a lot opposed it. They were quietly asked to withdraw it. This may have been coming since then. Trump possibly wanted to wait until after his speech to a veteran’s group the night before last to announce it.

    • Yakaru says:

      It’s a big enough decision as it is, to faithfully put one’s life on the line for which ever cause which ever president deems necessary. To discover one has done this for an entirely irresponsible and uninterested foreign agent must be quite sickening.

  8. Randy schenck says:

    Another bit of info to add to this story, yesterday the white house press sec. flat out lied to the press when asked about this matter and said – It is a military matter so you need to ask the Pentagon. However, the military knew nothing about this, other than the tweet from goofy. The Brass has since put out a notice to all commands telling them to do nothing until further direction is received through proper channels.

    • Yes, good point. I also think you and Mike (above) are correct that the military will do their best to find a way to ignore this.

      When I first wrote this post it included a long section about justifications used in the past for banning trans people from the military. Basically, they just don’t stack up. Unit cohesion is improved with full integration, just as it was when, for example, segregation was banned. Most prejudice is down to fear of the unknown. Getting to know trans people and realizing that apart from sexual identity they’re just like everyone else is good for everyone.

      A comment from the NZ military (which has an extremely good reputation) on this story went something like, “we will continue to not only encourage, but actively promote, inclusivity. We will not be making any changes to our policies because of this announcement.”

      • Randy schenck says:

        Been a really long time since I was in the military so I only mentioned it as a side. Don’t know if you can get it in NZ but the nighttime shows on MSNBC are very informative on all the goings on regarding the investigation and all the details. Maddow’s show and the one that comes on after are very good.

      • j.a.m. says:

        Even sore losers should recognize that subordination of the armed forces to an elected commander in chief is a sacrosanct principle of democracy.

        • Yakaru says:

          Exactly — but the sore loser in this case is Trump, who thought he could tweet an order at the armed forces rather than going through the established official channels. He tried it on, but they called his bluff.

          Maybe he will eventually try to do it properly and reject those who are serving their country (or *your* country, I assume) on the basis of their gender. In that case, you can then gloat all you want about it.

        • No actually. In my country, and most other democracies, it’s a principle of that democracy that the elected leader is NOT Commander-in-Chief. That’s a strength. And this wasn’t any well thought out plan. It was clearly a spur of the moment thing. A good leader discusses far-reaching policy decisions with those it effects. The Pentagon knew nothing about it and the White House still hasn’t issued any guidelines.

        • Ken says:

          Government decree by tweet is sacrosanct of nothing. If he’s serious about changing policy, someone will hold his hand to get it done properly. If it’s just red meat for the base as I suspect it may be, then we’ll move on to the next disruption.

  9. Mark R. says:

    Terrific commentary Heather. You elucidated every valid point I was pondering and added more valid points.

    I do think the real take away from this foolish action is his deep fear of what Mueller is and has uncovered (as you suggest). I heard that he is hiring lawyers now, not investigators. This suggests that he’s setting up future hearings and most of the investigation is done. I don’t know how credible this information is. What I find extremely troubling is how transparent his actions are, and only progressive news is reporting this easy-to-follow chain of events.

    • Mark R. says:

      The last “his” is referring to Trump, not Mueller. Too happy with my pronouns.

    • Mueller has just started looking into financial dealings and my understanding (don’t know whether I’m correct) is that his current hires are experts in that area. This seems to be what has got Trump in such a tizzy if we assume the New York Times is correct, and Trump hasn’t contradicted them. I think that it’s in the financial dealings that any links to collusion by Trump will be found, if they exist.

      My suspicion though is that there’s something else in his finances (i.e. not Russian collusion) that he’s really worried about. Collusion, though unethical is not necessarily illegal, and he will be relying on his ability to talk his way out of that one. I think there might be something else that Trump is worried the investigation will find, something illegal that he will need to pardon himself for.

  10. Mark R. says:

    I love what George Takei tweeted in response to this:

    History shall record that you are not only the stupidest, most incompetent president ever, but also the cruelest and pettiest.

  11. Lee Knuth says:

    Everything he says divides this country further. He speaks and does not think about ramifications but only wishes to distract. Wonder if the country can take three and a half more years of this.

  12. Mic reports that the military has announced that there will be no change in current policy. See here.

    • Ken says:

      As the article says, “for now”.
      “Marine Gen. Joe Dunford wrote, “I know there are questions about yesterday’s announcement on the transgender policy by the president … There will be no modifications to the current policy until the president’s direction has been received by the secretary of defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance.”

      The best bit is this:
      He added that, “in the meantime,” military leadership should “treat all of our personnel with respect. As importantly, given the current fight and the challenges we face, we will all remain focused on accomplishing our assigned missions.”

      There are two swipes at Trump here. One is to treat all personnel with respect until formally ordered to do otherwise. The other is to avoid the disruption that Trump’s order will cause so the military can do its job, playing off the fact that one of Trump’s lies for making the change was supposedly to remove a disruption that threatened to keep the military from doing its job. Well played, General.

  13. nicky says:

    On a side-line, would Mr Trump have made the Republican candidacy it if Mr Sessions had not supported him from the early stages? We don’t know for sure. But to blame Sessions for recusing himself is ridiculous. The Trump campaign is under scrutiny, Sessions was part of that campaign. It is an absolute nono, even for inveterate teabaggers, I’d say. It appears we have to praise the odious Sessions now for not breaking the law. Can it get more ridiculous? Of course the real target is Mueller, not Sessions.
    As Trevor Noah remarked, Mr Trump did not throw Sessions under the bus, he is the bus.
    As for the trans military: just a tweet, a new controversy, probably to divert attention from some sordid Russia detail.

    • As you say, Sessions was the first, and for some time the only, sitting MP (in NZ terminology) to support Trump. He endorsed Trumpism before Trump did. He was giving voice to the policies Trump used to win when Trump was still pro-choice etc. He took a huge political risk coming out for Trump. And yes, the real target is Mueller. He’s trying to find dirt on him, but getting support to sack a decorated Marine who has done nothing wrong is going to be harder than he thinks too.

  14. I like how he said he had consulted with the military and they replied, “erm, no; you didn’t…”

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