Mattis Won't Implement Transgender Ban Until Pentagon Study Yields Recommendations

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The Pentagon is taking the directive from President Trump to bar openly transgender service members and subjecting it to a review period that could, by the words of Friday's White House memorandum, change the administration's mind or, at the very least, slow walk the process.

On July 26, Trump tweeted: "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. 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."

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford stated after Trump's trio of tweets that “there will be no modifications to the current policy until the president's direction has been received by the secretary of Defense and the secretary has issued implementation guidance." Mattis, who had maintained the policy of allowing existing transgender service members to serve openly but had recently extended the review period to study policy for admitting new transgender service members, was on vacation when Trump issued the tweets.

On Friday, the White House released a memo for the secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security regarding the military branches and the Coast Guard. "In my judgment, the previous administration failed to identify a sufficient basis to conclude that terminating the departments' longstanding policy and practice would not hinder military effectiveness and lethality, disrupt unit cohesion, or tax military resources, and there remain meaningful concerns that further study is needed to ensure that continued implementation of last year's policy change would not have those negative effects," Trump wrote.

The secretaries were directed to "maintain the currently effective policy regarding accession of transgender individuals into military service beyond January 1, 2018, until such time as the Secretary of Defense, after consulting with the Secretary of Homeland Security, provides a recommendation to the contrary that I find convincing."

Trump also ordered the department to "halt all use of DoD or DHS resources to fund sex‑reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex."

Today in a statement, Defense Secretary James Mattis said he "will develop a study and implementation plan, which will contain the steps that will promote military readiness, lethality, and unit cohesion, with due regard for budgetary constraints and consistent with applicable law."

"The soon arriving senior civilian leadership of DOD will play an important role in this effort. The implementation plan will address accessions of transgender individuals and transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military," he said. "Our focus must always be on what is best for the military’s combat effectiveness leading to victory on the battlefield. To that end, I will establish a panel of experts serving within the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security to provide advice and recommendations on the implementation of the president’s direction. Panel members will bring mature experience, most notably in combat and deployed operations, and seasoned judgment to this task. The panel will assemble and thoroughly analyze all pertinent data, quantifiable and non-quantifiable. Further information on the panel will be forthcoming."

Once the panel comes back with its recommendations, Mattis continued, "and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning of his policy direction."

"In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place," he said. "I expect to issue interim guidance to the force concerning the president’s direction, including any necessary interim adjustments to procedures, to ensure the continued combat readiness of the force until our final policy on this subject is issued."

Some transgender service members have already filed lawsuits challenging Trump's directive. One case filed Monday, Stone v. Trump, lists as plaintiffs Petty Officer First Class Brock Stone, Staff Sergeant Kate Cole, Senior Airman John Doe, Technical Sergeant Tommie Parker, Airman First Class Seven Ero George, and Petty Officer First Class Teagan Gilbert along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. It argues that the ban is unconstitutional by violating guarantees to equal protection and due process.

Another lawsuit has been filed in Seattle by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN on behalf of Army Staff Sergeant Catherine Schmid and two transgender individuals who wish to join the military.

Nearly 150 House lawmakers, led by House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), sent Trump a letter today urging him to reconsider the transgender ban as "there is no place for discrimination in our Armed Forces or indeed anywhere else in American society."

"There are thousands of active-duty transgender servicemembers. Contrary to your rhetoric, their service has not caused 'disruption' or 'burdened' the military," they wrote. "Rather, their sacrifices have made our nation safer and stronger. Transgender servicemembers wear the same uniform and complete the same missions as their cisgender peers. In combat, their lives are in equal peril. They serve with equal distinction; they are equally deserving of our gratitude and respect."

"Implicitly, your ban denies the value of transgender servicemembers, and it questions the professionalism of those who serve beside them."