The ban on transgender service members initially announced by President Donald Trump in 2017 and later fleshed out further by the Pentagon went into effect on April 12, officially signaling the beginning of a new era of government-sanctioned discrimination by the nation’s largest employer.
Under the terms of the ban, the vast majority of transgender Americans would be barred from serving in the US military.
In a July 2017 tweet, Trump stated, “The United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the US military.”
In the policy rolled out this month, which reflects revisions recommended last year by a task force headed up by former Defense Secretary James Mattis, any transgender person with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria would be presumptively disqualified for service, unless they were already serving and willing and able to serve in their biological gender at birth. Transgender people never diagnosed with gender dysphoria could also serve.
A Pentagon spokesperson confirmed that the new policy went into effect on April 12, but insisted “it’s not a ban.” The administration has defended the policy against four lawsuits challenging its constitutionality by arguing it is based on the medical condition of gender dysphoria rather than transgender status per se.
But that characterization is widely seen as misleading because only a small fraction of trans service members would be exempt.
The ban is expected to impact as many as 15,000 service members whose jobs are now in jeopardy and will face additional hardships, including losing crucial healthcare services previously provided to them. There remains a great deal of uncertainty over which service members could receive a waiver to remain in place under the policy’s guidelines.
“These service members are wondering if they’re going to be discharged, if not today, then in the near future,” said Kristen Rouse, the out lesbian founder of a New York-based veterans advocacy group, NYC Veterans Alliance. Rouse, just hours after the ban went into effect, said there are also concerns that service members could be affected in other more indirect and discriminatory ways.
“If they’re not discharged, they’re wondering if they’re going be barred from re-enlisting or held back from promotions,” she said. “Is their career going to end for reasons no other than their identity?”
Upon the implementation of the ban, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the Division of Military and Naval Affairs, the Division of Veterans’ Services, and the Division of Human Rights to assist transgender service members by offering services and resources. He said in a statement that the state has “zero tolerance for intolerance.”
“To transgender service members and all uniformed New Yorkers: We stand with you and we will do everything in our power to support you,” Cuomo said. “In New York, we believe in equality and we will never stop fighting to ensure the dignity and respect of all.”
City Councilmember Chaim Deutsch of Brooklyn, the chair of the Council’s Veterans Committee, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the implementation of the ban and its impact on service members from the city. Deutsch has a largely anti-LGBTQ voting record and has not publicly stated his position on the ban despite his leadership post on veteran’s issues.
Members of the NYC Veterans Alliance told Gay City News that Deutsch was noncommittal when asked whether he would support a City Council resolution against the ban.
LGBTQ military groups voiced their opposition to the ban as it was rolled out. OutServe-SLDN, a network of LGBTQ military personnel, specifically took aim at the role Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have played in pushing the ban forward.
“By taking steps to implement its ban on open and authentic military service, the Trump-Pence administration has definitively affirmed that when it comes to our national security, they hold unsubstantiated and discriminatory claims as more important than effectively and efficiently completing the mission,” said Andy Blevins, the organization’s executive director. “Our transgender siblings-in-arms and future warriors have proven time and again that they are committed, that they are ready, and that they are able to selflessly and effectively serve our nation.”
Blake Dremann, who is the president of SPART*A, an organization of transgender people currently serving in the military as well as trans veterans, said his organization stands “firmly with our members and the thousands of transgender troops serving bravely across the globe.”
The policy is largely seen as detrimental to the military, especially when, according to Rouse, the Marine Corps is in such need of recruits that it has been offering $50,000 in signing bonuses to encourage folks to enlist.
“This ban is a national security issue,” Rouse said. “We have highly trained, capable, decorated members of the military who are facing this kind of discriminatory policy.”
The ban comes nearly eight years after former President Barack Obama ended the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, which was implemented during the Clinton administration and prohibited gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from serving openly in the military. While those service members will remain in place, the ban on transgender service members is seen as a major step back across the LGBTQ community.
“It is a disgrace that we would treat anyone like this when they have stepped up to serve,” Rouse said.