President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that transgender Americans would no longer be able to serve in the U.S. military “in any capacity,” citing “tremendous medical costs” and the “disruption” their service would cause.
Here’s a primer on the issue, which appeared to be settled under the Obama administration but has abruptly emerged in a partisan fracas.
How many transgender troops are there?
A 2016 RAND report estimates that there are 2,450 active-duty transgender troops and about 1,510 in the reserve. The report, however, put the range at anywhere between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender service members in the U.S. military. Military LGBT advocacy groups put the estimate much higher, however, at about 15,000 troops.
Are any serving openly?
Some are. Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced June 30, 2016, that all transgender troops would be able to serve openly “effective immediately.” Some transgender troops who are serving openly speak out as advocates for a more inclusive policy for all.
What was the policy?
Prior to Carter’s announcement, transgender troops could not serve openly. Transgender troops who did serve had to wear the uniform and hair styles of their birth gender, and the military didn’t not pay for hormone therapy or transition surgery.
How did Obama change that?
The June 2016 announcement under former President Barack Obama immediately allowed transgender troops to serve openly and made it so they could no longer be kicked out for revealing their gender identity. It also required the Pentagon to come up with new regulations and provide education to commanders on how to accommodate transgender troops in their units. It required the Pentagon to begin taking in qualified transgender recruits by July 1, 2017.
Carter said the change was designed to ensure the military could recruit the best and brightest people, regardless of their sexual orientation or LGBT status.
What was the cost of providing health care to transgender troops?
The same RAND study estimated that it would cost a maximum of $8.4 million a year to cover those transgender troops who sought health treatment. This makes up less than 1 percent of annual spending on active-duty health care.
What did Defense Secretary Jim Mattis do?
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis delayed the July 1 deadline to fully lift the ban by six months to Jan. 1, 2018, which he said would give the military more time to evaluate “the readiness and lethality of our forces.” It only impacted new recruits, not those currently serving.
What has Trump said previously about LGBT issues?
During the campaign, Trump was widely considered the most pro-LGBT nominee in the Republican Party’s history. It was a distinction he touted, promising in his nomination address to “do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” He often framed the issue in the context of terrorist violence toward the LGBT community, particularly in the wake of a deadly attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
“Thank you to the LGBT community!” he wrote on Twitter in June 2016. “I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”
He has also weighed in on the issue of public restrooms as some Republican legislators sought to introduce laws requiring people to use the restroom that aligns with their gender at birth. Trump said, for example, that if Caitlyn Jenner visited Trump Tower she would be welcome to use the restroom of her choice. He also raised issue with North Carolina’s restrictive law, though he did not outright oppose it.
"There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go. They use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate," Trump said in April 2016. "There has been so little trouble. And the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic — I mean, the economic punishment that they’re taking."
What is Congress doing?
In the hours following Trump’s announcement, Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) filed an amendment to a massive national security spending bill, expected to reach the House floor this week, that would effectively overturn Trump’s surprise ban on transgender individuals serving in the armed forces.
Earlier this month, lawmakers narrowly defeated, 209-214, an amendment to the House’s annual defense policy bill from Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) that would have prevented the Pentagon from paying for gender transition-related medical treatment. Two dozen Republicans voted with Democrats to kill the proposal.
Republican opponents of the policy argued that paying for procedures such as hormone treatments and gender reassignment surgeries would be a drain on military readiness at a time of tight budgets. Democrats, though, called the move discriminatory.
Prior to Trump’s announcement, conservatives had sought to revive the fight on a transgender medical treatment. At least two amendments have been filed to the House spending package — which includes Pentagon funding — to bar funding for transgender medical treatments.
What does this mean for the Defense Department?
The Defense Department referred all questions to the White House and did not immediately have any new guidance for how the ban would be put back in place.
“We refer all questions about the President’s statements to the White House. We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the Commander-in-Chief on transgender individuals serving the military. We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future,” Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said.