Trump transgender ban hurt military, top service physicians say
President Trump’s ban on most transgender service members “inflicts concrete harms” on U.S. military readiness by discouraging thousands from enlisting and damaging troop morale, three former military surgeons general said in a new study.
The 2019 policy compromised “recruitment, reputation, retention, unit cohesion, morale, medical care, and good order and discipline,” according to the report co-authored by the former military physicians and produced in conjunction with the Palm Center, a research institute and LGBTQ advocacy group.
The Obama administration allowed transgender people to begin serving openly in 2016, but in 2017, Trump tweeted he would reverse that policy.
The Trump administration ban, which bars anyone with gender dysphoria from enlisting, took effect in April 2019. Trump has argued that the new policy would improve readiness as transgender troops could erode unit cohesion if allowed to enlist.
But the study found that, “contrary to claims by the president and the Pentagon that allowing transgender service would be disruptive and costly, the ban itself has harmed readiness.”
The report’s findings were compiled from public statements made by senior officials, in-depth interviews with transgender service members, survey data and interviews with service academies’ faculty.
The Palm Center estimates that nearly 15,000 transgender service members serve in the military, based on Pentagon data.
Under the Trump administration policy, transgender service members can only continue serving if they do so as the sex they were assigned at birth, unless they are granted a waiver. The policy also allows those who came out under the Obama administration policy to continue serving openly. Any new transgender enlistees, however, are barred from service.
Because of the exceptions, however, the Pentagon argues the policy is not a ban.
The Defense Department’s current policy came after Trump tweeted in July 2017 he would “not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.”
The study has found that since then, the ban “has harmed unit cohesion by encouraging anti-transgender harassment and by undermining trust when troops conceal their identities.”
“The ban appears to have emboldened anti-transgender harassment by commanders or peers, which can come in the form of selective and unequal enforcement of personnel policies; . . . disparaging comments; and implied threats that the ban’s overriding message that transgender people don’t belong in uniform could be used to drive such service members out,” the report states.
A Navy aviation electronics technician who flew in multiple combat missions told researchers that having the ban as policy “strongly signals a lack of support or care for transgender personnel.”
“The ban has kind of emboldened everybody to be transphobic again. There’s no protections,” she said. “Before the ban, the Navy’s stance was that transgender people are real people and they have a status and we’re going to help them transition to what they need to be so they can continue to serve. . . . But now that the ban has been reinstated, there’s no longer anyone trying to accept us anymore.”
The study also found that the ban hurts recruitment efforts by artificially shrinking a recruiting pool of an estimated 205,850 transgender Americans.
But the Palm Center has said that because of the Obama administration’s policy framework — kept in place in order to grandfather-in transgender service members who came out before the Trump administration’s policy took effect — President-elect Joe Biden could reverse the ban within 30 days.
Biden has previously pledged to revert to the Obama-era policy that allowed transgender service members to serve openly.
“On day one of my presidency, I will begin reinstating LGBTQ protections President Trump has rolled back, including ensuring transgender individuals can openly serve in the military,” Biden said in February.