Trump Signs Directive Banning Transgender Military Recruits; Fate of Current Troops Unclear

President Donald Trump on Friday directed the military not to move forward with an Obama-era plan that would have allowed transgender individuals to be recruited into the armed forces, following through on his intentions announced a month earlier to ban transgender people from serving.

President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he walks towards the Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House prior to a departure Aug. 25, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The presidential memorandum also bans the Department of Defense from using its resources to provide medical treatment regimens for transgender individuals currently serving in the military.

Trump also directed the departments of Defense and Homeland Security “to determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving based on military effectiveness and lethality, unitary cohesion, budgetary constraints, applicable law, and all factors that may be relevant,” the White House official said.

The White House official who briefed reporters on the memo on Friday evening declined to say whether transgender troops would be allowed to remain in the military under those policy guidelines.

But the official signaled that the administration was returning to the military’s pre-2016 policy under which no transgender individuals were allowed to serve openly in the armed forces.

The guidance comes a month after Trump said on Twitter that he would reinstate a ban on transgender troops, an announcement that took many in the military’s leadership — including the joint chiefs of staff — by surprise.

“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 said in a series of tweets. “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.”

“Thank you,” he added.

The White House offered no guidance at the time as to how the ban would be implemented, leaving transgender servicemembers wondering about their future in the military.

Trump’s decision reversed a policy initially approved by the Defense Department under President Barack Obama, which was still under final review, that would allow transgender individuals to openly serve in the military. Defense Secretary James Mattis announced in June that he was delaying enactment of the plan to begin allowing transgender individuals to join the US military.

Trump’s decision was met with widespread rebuke by members of both parties and civil rights advocates, who argued that Trump’s decision reversed years of progress for LGBT rights and flew in the face of studies showing minimal impacts on the military.

A 2016 Rand Corp. study commissioned by the Defense Department concluded that letting transgender people serve openly would have a “minimal impact” on readiness and health care costs, largely because there are so few in the military’s 1.3 million-member force.

The study put the number of transgender people in the military at between 1,320 and 6,630. Gender-change surgery is rare in the general population, and the Rand study estimated the possibility of 30 to 140 new hormone treatments a year in the military, with 25 to 130 gender transition-related surgeries among active service members annually. The cost could range from $2.4 million and $8.4 million a year, an amount that would represent an “exceedingly small proportion” of total health care expenditures, the study found.