DoD puts off change allowing trans people to enlist for another 6 months
From Staff Reports and the Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is giving the military chiefs another six months to conduct a review to determine if allowing transgender individuals to enlist in the armed services will affect the “readiness or lethality” of the force.
Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Mattis made the decision Friday, June 30. The delay in allowing the enlistment of new recruits does not affect transgender troops who are already serving openly.
“After consulting with the service chiefs and secretaries, I have determined that it is necessary to defer the start of accessions for six months,” Mattis said in a memo that was sent Friday to the service chiefs and secretaries and was obtained by The Associated Press. “We will use this additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality.”
In the memo, Mattis said he believes the department must measure “each policy decision against one standard” — whether it affects the ability of the military to defend the nation.
Mattis’ decision formally endorses an agreement hammered out last week by the leaders of the four military services, which rejected Army and Air Force requests for a two-year wait. And it reflects the broader worry that a longer delay would trigger criticism on Capitol Hill, officials familiar with the talks told the AP.
The request for a delay was sent to Mattis for a final decision last week.
Mattis said the review by the services must be completed by Dec. 1, and he noted that his approval of a delay “does not presuppose the outcome of the review.” He said the additional time would ensure he has “the benefit of the views of the military leadership and of the senior civilian officials who are now arriving in the department.”
Mattis’ decision was met with divided reaction.
Brenda Antoinette Tripp, a North Texas transgender woman who spent 20 years on active duty with the U.S. military and another eight in the reserves, said the decision is “disheartening and not substantiated by real data.”
Tripp continued, “Please explain how this makes sense. It’s OK for both heterosexual and homosexual men and women to serve, and to serve honorably. You have people with same-sex attraction changing clothes next to those with opposite-sex attraction, and there are no real problems [because] they all know how to act professionally. But someone who is transgender is now a threat?”
Tripp, who did not come out as a transgender woman until after she left the military, said she is “very disappointed in my country’s leadership,” adding that many people thought when the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was ended allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly, that also ended the ban on transgender servicemembers. “Most people did not have a clue as to the difference,” she said. “How can we as military volunteers trust a leadership that withdraws support from its own people? If they go back on this, they send a very dangerous message to the citizens who step up to serve this country.
“The legislators and administrators who are abandoning people who trusted them are the real threat to our readiness,” she said.
Stephen Peters, Human Rights Campaign spokesman and a Marine veteran, said, “Each day that passes without the policy in place restricts the armed forces’ ability to recruit the best and the brightest, regardless of gender identity.”
A basic training instructor for one branch of the military said this week that “this delay is hurting us. We have to remember that our new [recruits] are more accepting than we give them credit for. I’ve had many talks with [recruits and] some are afraid because it’s a change. But for the most part, they are wondering why it’s taking so long.
“We as a country and a military have already overcome several integrations that people thought were going to be the end of it all,” the instructor continued. “We integrated African-Americans, foreigners from other countries as a way for them to gain citizenship, and the gay and lesbian community. This is no different. We will show our strength in numbers by being supportive of the [servicemember] beside us, not their race, religion, gender or sexual preference.”
The instructor acknowledged that there will be “bad eggs,” but insisted that is just because “we are a more condensed version of the communities we come from. [But plans are already in motion to ensure that every servicemember] has privacy and feels comfortable in the uncomfortable environment of basic training. Let’s stop looking for the negative and look at the positive of having another [recruit] that wants to defend the country we love.”
OutServe-SLDN (formerly the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network) issued a statement noting that Out-Serve has been working with Pentagon officials and allied organizations to ensure the necessary policy changes were ready for implementation by July 1. The organization, according to the statement, is “confident that the services are equipped to support this final piece of transgender military service and there should no delay in its implementation. We are disappointed” that the DoD has chosen to delay implementation.
Acknowledging that OutServe can’t do anything to avoid the six-month delay, the statement went on to “reiterate that the services are prepared for transgender individuals and assert that delays beyond January 2018 will have a negative impact on military readiness [and] that we cannot tolerate.”
Transgender service members have been able to serve openly in the military since last year, when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter ended the ban, declaring it the right thing to do. Since Oct. 1, transgender troops have been able to receive medical care and start formally changing their gender identifications in the Pentagon’s personnel system. OutServe estimated that there are more than 14,000 transgender men and women already serving in the U.S. armed forces, many of them serving openly, thanks to Carter’s actions a year ago.
Carter gave the services until July 1 to develop policies to allow people already identifying as transgender to newly join the military, if they meet physical, medical and other standards, and have been stable in their identified genders for 18 months.
The military chiefs have argued they need more time to study the issue and its effects on the readiness of the force before taking that step. According to officials familiar with the internal discussions, the chiefs believe the extra six months would give the four military services time to gauge if currently serving transgender troops are facing problems and what necessary changes military bases might have to make.
They said Navy officials were ready to begin enlistment in July but asked for a one-year delay, largely to accommodate a request from the Marine Corps for more time. The Navy secretary also oversees the Marine Corps. The Army and Air Force wanted a two-year delay to further study the issue, they said.
Already, there are as many as 250 service members who are in the process of transitioning to their preferred genders or who have been approved to formally change gender within the Pentagon’s personnel system, according to several defense officials. Key concerns include whether currently enlisted troops have had medical or other issues that cause delays or problems with their ability to deploy or meet physical or other standards for their jobs. Military leaders also want to review how transgender troops are treated, if they’re discriminated against or if they have had disciplinary problems, the officials said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 7, 2017.