Is the Military Transgender Ban Viable as a Policy?

By Molly Miller

Cover Photo Credits

On July 26, 2017, President Donald Trump announced to the world that the United States military would no longer allow transgender people to serve as military personnel. Over the span of three tweets, he argued that transgender individuals create costs and cause disruption, impacting the US military’s effectiveness and readiness. Since the announcement, there has been a lively discourse between the LGBTQ+ community and its allies and those who support the ban. The question remains; is a ban on all transgender military personnel feasible?

Let’s begin by looking at few statistics about transgender people serving in the military. These may help address questions of monetary cost and cost to readiness related to transgender military personnel. The Rand Corporation has studied gender transition related medical costs and found that coverage of these costs for active duty military members would only represent a 0.04-0.13% increase in health care expenditures for active duty military members. This means that gender transition related medical costs would represent just 0.0014% of the current proposed defense budget. With the costs of providing adequate medical care to transgender service members being so minimal compared to the overall budget, it is difficult to make a compelling case for medical cost as reason to ban transgender people from serving in the military.

Shifting towards the readiness argument, a 2014 study from The Williams Institute estimated that there are roughly 15,500 transgender people serving the military in an active duty, Guard, or Reserve capacity. The same study estimated that there are an additional 134,300 transgender veterans and retirees from the Guard and Reserve. Additionally, the study found that 20% of surveyed transgender people had served the military in some capacity- a rate nearly double the 10.7% rate at which US adults on whole have served the military. It would seem counterintuitive to argue that eliminating thousands of US troops would improve readiness. Furthermore, if the transgender population is more than twice as likely to serve than the general American population, it would seem wise to encourage this group to continue to serve. A statement from three retired Army generals praises inclusive policies for enhancing readiness, rather than discriminatory policies which pressure service members to lie about their identities so that they may serve their country. US allies such as the UK, Israel, and Canada all allow transgender people to serve openly in their militaries with no effects on readiness. So, readiness is not a particularly compelling case for a ban on transgender service members either.

If the two main reasons stated by the administration for the ban on transgender military members hold little weight when assessed, what is the likelihood that the ban will be successfully implemented?

Following President Trump’s tweets and presidential memorandum on the ban, Defense Secretary John Mattis established a panel of experts to advise on how the Department of Defense should go about implementing the transgender ban. Mattis stated that until the panel formulates an appropriate response, currently serving transgender military personnel will retain their status. However, until a decision has been made on the ban, the military will not accept new transgender members.

Most recently, a DC District Court judge ruled that the military could not remove current members because of their transgender status and must continue to provide them healthcare. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly did rule that under the order of Mattis, the military can no longer accept transgender members until January 1st, 2018. The injunction from the judge is seen as a success by the LGBTQ+ community and a step towards preventing the ban.

With legal action against the ban already having success, former military members coming out against the ban, and facts which clearly dispute claims about the risks of transgender people serving in the military, it seems unlikely that the ban will have great success in the future. While nothing is set in stone, opposition to the policy is strong and wide spread, which could potentially stop the ban in its tracks.