President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced the government would not “accept or allow” transgender people to serve in the U.S. military, warning doing so could burden the armed forces with medical costs and disruptions.
It’s unclear what sparked the president’s surprise decision, which he announced in a string of morning tweets. But he said he reached his conclusion after consulting with senior military officials, though he did not name them.
As many as 6,630 transgender people are among the 1.3 million troops serving in the military, according to one estimate. It’s unknown how many of them are in Georgia, where the military has a substantial footprint with major installations in Augusta, Columbus, Hinesville and Marietta.
“After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” Trump tweeted. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”
The Obama administration reversed the ban on transgender people openly serving in the U.S. military last year, saying they could no longer be discharged or otherwise separated from the military solely for being transgender.
The government, however, gave the military until this month to start accepting new, openly transgender troops. But Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced a six-month delay last month, saying that would give the military time to review whether the change would impact its “readiness and lethality.”
Monica Helms, a transgender woman from Marietta who served eight years in the U.S. Navy, blasted the president’s announcement.
“There is no reason to do this. And trans people have proven this for the last year when they have been serving openly,” said Helms, who served on two submarines and who co-founded the Transgender American Veterans Association. “We have been in the military all this time. We serve this country proudly. And what he is doing is simply nothing more than bigotry.”
Civil rights groups also objected.
“This is an outrageous and desperate action,” said Joshua Block, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project. “The thousands of transgender service members serving on the front lines for this country deserve better than a commander-in-chief who rejects their basic humanity.”
Conservative groups, meanwhile, praised the president.
“I applaud President Trump for keeping his promise to return to military priorities — and not continue the social experimentation of the Obama era that has crippled our nation’s military,” said Tony Perkins, a Marine veteran and the president of the Family Research Council, a Washington-based Christian lobbying group. “The military can now focus its efforts on preparing to fight and win wars rather than being used to advance the Obama social agenda.”
Between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender people are serving in the military, according to a study the RAND Corp. completed for the Defense Department last year. Eighteen other countries allow transgender people to openly serve in their armed forces, including Australia, Canada, Israel and the United Kingdom. RAND studied those four countries and said it found no evidence of “an effect on operational effectiveness, operational readiness or cohesion.”
RAND also estimated medical costs associated with hormone treatments and gender transition-related surgeries could range between $2.4 million and $8.4 million, representing a .13-percent increase in government healthcare spending at the top end.
“If the U.S. military decides to let transgender people serve openly, the number would likely be a small fraction of the total force and have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs,” the RAND study says.
Trump's decision came as lawmakers in Washington were considering a spending bill full of his campaign promises, including funding to pay for a wall on the southwest border. Citing numerous congressional and White House sources, Politico reported Wednesday that his Twitter announcement was partly a last-ditch attempt to save that spending measure amid sharp disagreements in the House. Conservative lawmakers were disappointed earlier this month when Congress rejected a proposal from U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican, to stop requiring the government to pay for gender transition surgeries and hormone therapy for troops.
Hartzler applauded Trump’s announcement Wednesday.
“With the challenges we are facing across the globe,” she said, “we are asking the American people to invest their hard-earned money in national defense. Each dollar needs to be spent to address threats facing our nation. The costs incurred by funding transgender surgeries and the required additional care it demands should not be the focus of our military resources.”
An estimated 150,000 transgender people have served in the U.S. military, according to the Williams Institute, a think tank at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. Among them is Kristin Beck, a former Navy SEAL who did some of her military training at Georgia’s Fort Benning. Beck, who gained national attention in 2013 for coming out as a transgender woman, went on seven combat deployments and earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart during her 20 years with the SEALs.
Asked how Trump’s decision would be implemented and what it would mean for transgender people who are already serving openly in the military, the Pentagon referred questions to the White House. A White House spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
“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,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
OutServe-SLDN, a gay and transgender advocacy group, said it would take the matter to federal court.
“In his latest example of pseudo-policy-by-twitter, Donald Trump has shown blatant disregard for transgender service members who have been serving openly since October 2016,” the group said in a statement. “The disruptive burden to the military comes from indecision in a White House which itself is not focused on victory if it’s targeting service members.”
Jamie Ewing, who got kicked out of the U.S. military in 2013 for being a transgender woman, said Trump’s comments are a “setback and an injustice to our fighting force, removing the talent and experience of thousands of trained and willing service members.”
“While details remain limited to just the three post on Twitter, the implications of these comments have now put the careers of dedicated service members in jeopardy as well as continue to prevent those willing to serve from helping to defend our nation,” said Ewing, an Augusta-area resident who serves as secretary of the Transgender American Veterans Association.