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Unveil the Experts Used to Decide on Transgender Ban, Lawmakers Ask Mattis

Defense Secretary James Mattis and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testify at the House Armed Services Committee on April 12, 2018. (DOD Photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro)

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are pressing the Pentagon to reveal the still-unknown names of the panel of experts who reviewed the Defense Department’s transgender policy and recommended a ban on most transgender service members.

A federal judge last month ordered the administration to reveal the names of the experts comprising the panel behind the new policy; the administration claimed executive privilege requires it to turn only minimal information over to the court.

The Pentagon document on the study doesn’t name the experts, only reiterating the White House description of the panel including senior uniformed and civilian DoD leaders and combat veterans.

Defense Secretary James Mattis concluded in his February recommendation that there were “substantial risks” incurred by letting transgender members of the military serve, and that it “could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality.” The panel dismissed the findings of a RAND Corp. report that shaped the Obama administration’s policy on transgender service members, in part taking issue with that study’s citing of foreign militaries’ success with transgender troops.

Under the new policy, transgender individuals are disqualified from military service unless they switched back to identifying with their biological gender for at least the past three years or they “do not require a change of gender and remain deployable within applicable retention standards.” Current transgender service members who transitioned since the Obama-era policy went into effect and before the Trump policy scrubbed that “may continue to serve in their preferred gender and receive medically necessary treatment for gender dysphoria.”

“Transgender persons who require or have undergone gender transition are disqualified from military service,” Mattis added. “Transgender persons without a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria, who are otherwise qualified for service, may serve, like all other service members, in their biological sex.”

While the study was being conducted, six separate federal courts issued rulings blocking implementation of the transgender ban. At least one transgender recruit was accepted via court order. The Pentagon said it will continue to abide by the court injunctions and allow transgender service members while the multiple lawsuits brought by current and former troops make their way through court.

Mattis has refused to comment on the policy when asked, citing the ongoing court battles.

In a letter to Mattis on Thursday, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.), House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), and Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Ranking Member Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said it was “imperative that we explore the factual bases behind your recommendations.”

Your letter to the President stated you created a Panel of Experts of senior uniformed and civilian Defense Department leaders and charged them to provide their best military advice without regard to any external factors. Although you state that the panel received input from civilian medical professionals, the recommendations appear to us to be inconsistent with what we have heard from the civilian medical community,” they wrote. “Numerous recognized experts, former military officials and Surgeons General, and organizations representing medical professionals have released statements criticizing the Report’s recommendations and the underlying scientific basis for these recommendations.”

“Relying on recognized experts and gathering diverse opinions and perspectives is crucial to the development of an informed and sound policy. Given the discrepancies between the Report’s recommendations and assessments of transgender military service previously made by DOD, and given the concerns raised by outside medical professionals and former military leaders, we would like to better understand the process by which DOD developed the Report.”

The Dems specifically asked for answers about the identities of the panel of experts, who the panel consulted with, and whether the review panel consulted with the “American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, or American Medical Association or any other medical professionals with expertise in gender dysphoria.”

“In your view, what are the substantial risks associated with the accessions and retention of transgender persons? ” they asked. “…In your view, what are the specific issues that could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the military? Can you please provide any examples that since June 30, 2016 these issues have arisen within the military and describe how the DOD or services handled these situations?

The lawmakers also asked to see “the specific medical and scientific data that supported the conclusions contained in your memorandum.”

“There are currently thousands of transgender individuals openly serving in the military with bravery and distinction,” they added. “There has been no indication that this has had an impact on overall readiness.” They asked for a meeting with Mattis to discuss his answers to their questions.